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Originally published January 31, 2013 at 4:48 PM | Page modified January 31, 2013 at 4:48 PM

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Editorial: Bills to grade schools, hold back third-graders well-meaning but problematic

The State Senate Education Committee falls short in efforts to rate schools and ensure all third-graders can read.

Seattle Times Editorial

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GRADES work for rating student performance but the state Legislature should think carefully about assigning letter grades to schools.

Senate Bill 5328 is a problematic attempt to offer parents a way to gauge the quality of public schools. Assigning A-through-F grades to schools would be an overly simplistic way to capture the complex levels of learning in each school.

Schools earning A’s would likely be in well-off communities helped by levy resources and involved parents. Rewarding them with teacher bonuses and more budget control may offer incentives to do even better, but it does nothing for schools graded with an F.

The bill’s intent is good. Parents need a way to distinguish good schools from others. Performance measurements are needed to trigger state intervention in struggling schools.

A lot of school-measurement data exists in the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. Make it accessible to parents.

Another well-intentioned bill with potential for poor execution would require schools to hold back third-graders reading below grade level. SB 5237’s emphasis on third-grade reading is right on. Too many high-school students are reading at elementary-school level.

Promoting students who are not ready is not good. But this bill does not take into account a student who reads poorly but works above grade level in every other subject. Moreover, studies show holding kids back works best early — in kindergarten through second grade — and becomes more problematic for older students.

About 2,000 Washington third-graders would be at risk of being held back, mostly minority and low-income students. Smarter efforts should be targeted at early-learning programs to better prepare students for elementary school. Academic screenings in kindergarten though second grade allow for timelier intervention.

Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee Chairman Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, says he understands these concerns. That bodes well for refining the legislation that has the same bead on quality schools and third-grade reading.

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