Louisiana Lawmaker Will Try Again to Hold Back Struggling Readers at Third Grade

Rep. Richard Nelson said he will bring back a bill that narrowly failed this year after the latest test results show declining reading scores

Rep. Richard Nelson, R-Mandeville, listens to testimony during an April 7, 2022, meeting of the special House committee investigating the death of Ronald Greene in state police custody. (Greg LaRose/Louisiana Illuminator)

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A Louisiana lawmaker plans to make another attempt to stop the promotion of third-graders who repeatedly fail reading assessments. Rep. Richard Nelson, R-Mandeville, said he will bring back a bill that narrowly failed this year after the latest LEAP test results show a continued decline in reading scores.

“Much has been written about Louisiana’s literacy crisis. Unfortunately, many of our students can’t read it,” Nelson said in a statement Monday.

Mississippi put a similar law in place nine years ago that stopped struggling readers from advancing to the fourth grade, according to Nelson. He said it resulted in “the fastest improvement in the country.”

“Third-grade retention works because it makes everyone accountable: students, parents, teachers, and schools,” Nelson added.

Nelson’s bill came two votes shy of gaining Senate approval, and he couldn’t get enough support in the upper chamber to bring it back up for reconsideration in the closing days of the session.

Opponents argued Nelson’s bill would hold back too many students back or lead to discrepancies affecting minority students. In his statement, Nelson said 8% of third-graders were held back the first year Mississippi’s law was in effect, and the percentage has decreased every year since.

“Black students also score significantly higher in Mississippi than Louisiana, and there is a smaller achievement gap between black and white students,” he said. “Ensuring minority students can read is the best way to help them achieve. Literacy is fundamental and reaches beyond elementary school, driving high school dropout rates, employment, and crime.”

Nelson did get a law approved in this year’s session that prohibits schools from using textbooks with the three-cueing system to teach reading. The method has come under criticism for relying heavily of sight clues that allow the student to guess the meaning of a word, rather than placing emphasis on spelling and letter sounds.

Next year’s legislative session will be held from April 10 to June 8.

Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Louisiana Illuminator maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jarvis DeBerry for questions: info@lailluminator.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

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