Returning Parents Rights to “Retention” Bill?

Third graders who can’t pass their state-mandated English test may not have to be held back after all under the governor-backed education bills floating around in the Roundhouse. 

Rep. Mary Helen Garcia (D-Dona Ana) is softening on her stance – written into her House Bill 69 – that the state should be able to automatically hold back third graders who don’t test as proficient readers. She said Tuesday she will introduce an amendment to her bill which would allow parents to sign a form overruling the state on third-grade retention. 

“I have a big concern that parents didn’t have that option” to overrule the state’s retention requirement, she said Tuesday afternoon. She said her amendment will be introduced Tuesday or Wednesday, and be heard by the House Judiciary Committee, probably on Monday. 

ISPAC had asked Garcia whether she was concerned the mandate violated the Indian Education Act, which “ensures” parental involvement in major decisions effecting students’ education. Her concern about parents being shut out of the decision, she said, has led her to write the new amendment.  ISPAC, incidentally, was first to raise the issue of mandatory retention conflicting with the Indian Education Act and parental rights. 

Sen. Cynthia Nava (D-Dona Ana) had acted to promote a similar education bill in the Senate which, likewise, mandated third-graders be held back if they couldn’t pass the reading test. On Tuesday, though, she said she didn’t favor the bill in its current form. 

“Retention should be a tool schools can use, but not mandatory for every child,” she said. 

Right now, parents can overrule the first order from a district that a student be kept another year in third grade. Nava said she wants district to be able to hold back students whose parents have demonstrated they aren’t going to help educate their kids.

“In situations where a child is not getting an opportunity to learn, the schools should trump parents,” she said. 

“This shouldn’t be political,” she added. “We can fight about drivers licenses and everything else, but not education. It’s our kids.”

Rep. Rick Miera had been opposing the bills mandating retention and said Tuesday it was “new info to me” that Nava and Garcia had given in on automatic retention. 

“I think they’re trying to make it look like they’re going where I was going all along,” Miera said. “It sounds like they’re trying to skirt the issue.”

Miera (D-Bernalillo) is chair of the House Education Committee and led a group whose counter proposal would have districts collaborating with parents on whether or not a student should be held back. 

Mandating that a child be held back based on test scores, he said, “puts children at peril.”

“I don’t believe in those kinds of high-stakes tests for 8-year-olds,” he said. 

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