Legislation boosts early reading and tightens rules for school discipline

By Fiona Cohen

In the dramatic end to the Washington state legislature’s special session last week, a bill (5946), was signed into law that will be a step forward for public school students.

It includes measures to bolster reading programs for kids in the early part of elementary school. How well kids read in those years makes a big difference to their future success. One study found that kids who are not reading proficiently in third grade are four times more likely not to graduate from high school.

Under the new law, whenever a child in grades K through 4 is below grade-level in reading, the teacher will have to inform the parents or guardians of the child’s progress, and what strategies the school is using to strengthen the child’s reading.

Another component will start in the 2014-2015 school year.  The timing is important because it should coincide with the state switching to a test that will give teachers results before the end of the school year. The current MSP gives out the results the following August.

If a third grader scores below “basic” on the language arts tests, the school has to schedule a meeting with the parents or guardians and discuss what to do to improve the child’s skills. One possible solution: enroll the student in a summer program.

The legislation also provides significant progress on how schools implement discipline policies

Washington used to have no time limit on how long students could be suspended or expelled. Now it does.

Students cannot be suspended or expelled for longer than one calendar year, though a school can petition the district superintendent to exceed one year if staff have health or safety concerns. Emergency expulsions must also be converted into a definite disciplinary action within 10 days of being imposed, thus removing students from a state of limbo.

Also, schools must make public their data on suspensions and expulsions, including information about the race and gender of those suspended, the status of petitions to re-enroll in school , and information about educational services the student received while suspended or expelled.

Tracy Sherman, policy analyst for the League of Education Voters said this is an important step towards getting students who have been removed from school back into the classroom. 

“This is a big win for students, and we’ll continue to work on this issue.”

Editor’s Note: This post originally ran on the Our Schools Coalition blog.

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