Updated April 9, 2019 - 5:20 pm
CARSON CITY — Worried about the number of third graders who could be held back after the next school year, some Nevada Democrats are looking to make big changes to the state’s Read by Grade 3 law.
Under the current law, which was passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature in 2015 and signed by Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval, third graders in Nevada who did not score high enough on a standardized reading test would be held back, with some exceptions, starting in the 2020-2021 school year.
Assembly Bill 289, which was heard Tuesday by the Assembly Education Committee, would make significant changes to that law, most notably by requiring parents to sign off on having their students held back in third grade. The bill does keep some of the additional instruction for struggling readers from the previous law, and even extends those through students in fifth grade.
Assemblyman Tyrone Thompson, D-North Las Vegas, who is the bill’s primary sponsor, pointed to an estimate from the Nevada Department of Education that some 9,000 third graders would be held back under the current law after next school year.
“We’re looking at thousands of students that may be retained if they don’t have the supports,” Thompson said. “In our state, we will have a second third grade.”
Twelve other Democrats are signed on as sponsors or cosponsors to the bill.
Supporters of the bill said they are worried about the issues that may be associated with holding kids back. Those can include stress, low self-esteem, as well as correlations with alcohol and drug abuse, said Melody Thompson, a national board certified school psychologist with the Clark County School District who helped present the bill.
“Some of the research shows that retention has some problems with it,” she said.
The bill drew support from teacher unions as well as the Washoe County School District. which said approximately 1,000 students would not qualify for the exemptions and would likely be held back. And most of those students come from just three ZIP codes in the district.
“We cannot punish a particularly disproportionate number of our students of color or our poor students that would largely be retained as a result of the existing legislation,” said Lindsay Anderson, the district’s government affairs director.
Just one person turned out Tuesday to oppose the bill.
Ray Bacon, a lobbyist with the Nevada Manufacturer’s association, pointed to improvements in reading among students in Florida, which enacted retention laws more than a decade ago.
“It’s proven that it does work,” Bacon said of the Read by 3 program.
The committee did not take any action on the bill. AB289 has not been deemed exempt, and non-exempt bills must be voted out of the first house committee by midnight Friday or they will be considered dead.