Executives for the Iowa Association of School Boards and the state teachers union oppose the idea of holding third-graders back if they don’t pass reading tests. 

Governor Branstad and his top education advisors are pushing the idea of ending automatic “social promotion” from third to fourth grade if the student cannot read.  Tom Downs, executive director of the Iowa Association of School Boards, is a recently-retired superintendent.

“As educators, we know the research on retaining students show little support for the benefits of the student. Retention has not worked,” Downs says. “Retention does not prove to be in the student’s best interest.” 

The education reform plan Governor Branstad released in early October cited a Florida program which requires testing of third graders, and holding back students who cannot read at the grade level.  According to one of Branstad’s aides, the Florida program’s working, as Florida fourth graders score better at reading tests than do Iowa fourth graders. Mary Jane Cobb, executive director of the Iowa State Education Association, says the fourth grade teachers she’s talked with have concerns about the proposal.

“The focus on reading is good. I’m not convinced the retention is right,” Cobb says. “I know what the Florida numbers say, but I want to talk to some more teachers in Florida and see what they say.”

Cobb also raises questions about how a third-grader who was held back would be integrated into a fourth-grade classroom once they have passed the reading test.

“What I hear is from fourth grade teachers who have a real significant concern about the fact that a third-grade student, when they’re deemed proficient, would be introduced into a fourth grade classroom at any point in the year,” Cobb says. “That student’s going to have missed everything that has happened up to that point.”

Cobb and Downs made their comments this morning during taping of the “Iowa Press” program which will be broadcast on Iowa Public Television this evening at 7:30.