Help students move on or punish them when they can’t—who has the “better bill”?

A group of New Mexico legislators are fighting Gov. Susana Martinez’s proposal to ban so-called “social promotion,” which moves students out of third grade even if they can’t pass reading proficiency tests.

Under the governor’s proposal, introduced last year and destined to be considered again at the upcoming legislative session, students who don’t make the grade would automatically be held back – no input from parents allowed. This big-government notion that the New Mexico Public Education Department should decide what’s best for individual students, instead of local school districts and parents, is exactly what new bill seeks to counter.

There is a better bill being offered by Rep. Rick Miera and other lawmakers, who met with press members Thursday to unveil their own education bill, which would allow parents and families to work closely with districts in determining whether a student should be held back or not.

The bill takes a dramatically different approach with failing students than what Martinez has in mind. Instead of automatically retaining failing children in third grade, school districts would create programs for providing special instructional assistance to kindergardeners through eighth graders who don’t demonstrate proficiency in reading and math (Martinez’s bill only addresses reading).

“We’re looking at alternatives and ways to move children to the next grade level,” said Majority Whip Sheryl Williams Stapleton, a cosponsor of the new bill. “What we want to promote in education is a well-rounded child ready to move on to the next level.”

“Special instructional assistance,” as it’s called in the bill, would mean that case-specific plans are developed for students who aren’t making adequate test scores, beginning in kindergarten. Rep. Linda Lopez, also a cosponsor, said plans include additional tutoring and training for parents and families on how to help their students work on lessons at home.

“Last year’s bill took parents out of the picture,” said Lopez of Martinez’s proposal. “It’s like, how dare you?”

While Martinez believes the state’s Public Education Department should have the power to require that failing third grade students be held behind their classmates, Miera and his colleagues seek to identify struggling students early, in the school year starting in kindergarten, and get them the help necessary to advance from grade to grade.

The proposal was written to equal the cost of Martinez’s education bill (around $28 million, Miera said). So the difference comes down to who should determine whether a student moves on or not: New Mexico PED, or local districts with input from parents and teachers?

Miera and his colleagues were flanked Thursday by a group of the bill’s supporters, including representatives for teachers, PTAs and superintendents. Miera said input from those groups was crucial to creating this bill – another difference between this better bill and the proposal put forth by Martinez.

Miera also noted that holding students back a grade has long been widely demonstrated to be ineffective, and  even detrimental to a child’s development on multiple levels This new proposal, however, does still allow for students to be retained in the same grade, though for no longer than one year, should that action be deemed necessary, and only with parental consent.

Photos below: From L to R– Sen. John Sapien, Sen. Howie Morales, Sen. Lisa Curtis, Sen. Linda Lopez, Rep. Rick Miera, Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton and Rep. Eleanor Chavez.

Second Photo from L to R: Rep. Rick Miera, AFT NM President Christine Trujillo and Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton.

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