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Mon, Jan. 27

Third-grade reading standard may become law in Arizona

PHOENIX -- State senators voted Wednesday to make it harder to pass third grade but easier to graduate from high school.

On a 21-9 margin lawmakers directed the state Board of Education to craft rules prohibiting youngsters from going on to fourth grade unless they pass the reading section of the AIMS test.

HB 2732 does include exceptions for those students with disabilities and students who are classified as "English language learners' who have had fewer than two years of English instruction.

And local school boards could grant "good cause' exemptions if a parent submits necessary recommendations.

The measure was crafted by Rep. Rich Crandall, R-Mesa. He said that promoting students into fourth grade and beyond who can't keep up with the reading ultimately does not help the youngster.

But the measure is designed to ensure that there are no surprises for parents, with notification before the end of third grade that a youngster isn't reading at accepted levels.

And children are not simply held back, with schools required to offer some alternatives, ranging from summer school and online reading instruction to intensive help during the next school year that can be conducted before, after or during the regular day.

Current third graders, however, have nothing to worry about. In fact, it would apply only those who reach third grade in 2013 and beyond.

And lawmakers added language making the requirement contingent on voters approving a temporary one-cent hike in sales taxes next month to provide the necessary resources.

The other measure, HB 2731, allows students to get a high school diploma without completing all the requisite courses. Crandall, who is the sponsor of that measure, too, said it makes no sense to keep a student in school who already has learned all he or she needs to graduate.

Students who show proficiency in all require core courses could get what would be called the "Grand Canyon Diploma.' Students with one of these diplomas would be guaranteed admission to community colleges, could choose to go to a trade school, or stay in high school and take advance placement courses toward college.

The other option, he said, would be to just go get a job.

Both measures need final House approval of the Senate changes before going to the governor.

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