Push to End ‘Social Promotion’ Hits Obstacles in New Mexico

By Sean Cavanagh — August 31, 2011 1 min read
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It’s a hot idea in education: require 3rd graders to demonstrate basic skills in reading before allowing them to move on to the next grade.

And it’s an issue that’s high on the agenda of New Mexico Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, as well as state Secretary of Education Hanna Skandera.

But the governor is facing political roadblocks, with a key Democratic lawmaker, Senate Majority Whip Mary Jane Garcia, voicing doubts about Martinez’s 3rd grade proposal. Garcia took the unusual step of expressing her reservations at a pre-arranged news conference with the governor at a school this week.

The lawmaker apologized to the governor for backing away from the plan, but said she had been “mobbed with calls” from parents and others with concerns about the proposal. Martinez wants legislators to address the 3rd grade policy in an upcoming legislative session, but Garcia indicated she’s not on board.

Garcia’s stance has drawn criticism from the state Republican party and others, though one editorial faults the governor for focusing on other, divisive legislative issues, and not pushing hard enough for action on the 3rd grade proposal.

Backers of efforts to ensure that students can read at grade level by 3rd grade sometimes describe those proposals as attempts to end “social promotion.” Oklahoma approved a policy to prevent students from advancing to 4th grade if their reading skills are lagging. Arizona has a law that mandates identification and retention of struggling readers in early grades. Jeb Bush is widely credited with having been a pioneer of the idea through a policy approved in his state (Skandera worked for the former Florida governor before heading to New Mexico).

For an overview of states’ work promoting early reading skills, see my colleague Catherine Gewertz’s story from July on the topic.

Photo: Gov. Martinez on the opening day of the legislative session in Santa Fe earlier this year. By Jane Phillips/The New Mexican/AP-File

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.