A bill that would allow elementary schools to assess all students and make sure they are reading on grade level sailed through committee Wednesday — despite concerns that it would put kids through more testing.
“I think it’s a very valuable tool,” argued Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, who’s sponsoring SB73.
Currently, schools can test students on literacy in grades one through three using a statewide benchmark system. Under Stevenson’s bills, elementaries could choose to expand that program through sixth grade. It would be an opt-in model, so districts could also decide if they want to test all kids, no kids or only those struggling.
According to a survey conducted by the Utah Board of Education, most school districts across the state — roughly 93% — support the measure. Many said it would help track students longer and help schools make sure that kids aren’t falling behind as they get older.
The assessment takes six minutes to complete and is conducted three times a year, said Sara Wiebke, literacy coordinator for the state board. With the expansion, up to 150,000 more kids would be tested each year, and Stevenson has asked for $1.5 million in appropriations to cover that.
“We want to make sure that we’re having reading success,” Wiebke added.
Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, said he’s heard from several constituents who are worried that the proposal creates more testing requirements for young students. “Some have asked me, ‘Haven’t we learned already testing isn’t good for kids?’”
Stevenson countered that the assessments are short and optional. Currently, he said, only about half of third graders are meeting the reading benchmark in their annual standardized testing. Expanding the earlier literacy checks might signal which students need help sooner. And, he hopes, it would provide better long-term data.
The bill passed unanimously and moves next to the Senate floor.