Copyright © 2015 Albuquerque Journal
About two-thirds of New Mexico voters support a state law that would require public schools to hold back students who struggle to read by the end of the third grade, according to a new Journal Poll.
“The vast majority of New Mexico registered voters support holding back the third-graders (who struggle to read),” said Journal pollster Brian Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling Inc.
He said this has been a consistent trend in his polls on the issue.
The statewide survey conducted last week found that 67 percent favored retention, with strong support in every demographic category in the survey: age, gender, political affiliation, education level and geography. In the Albuquerque area, 70 percent said they favored it.
Third-grade retention has been a major education policy goal for Gov. Susana Martinez, but in previous years a Democratic-controlled Legislature has blocked attempts to enact the policy.
A bill being considered in the Roundhouse would mandate all third-graders who score in the lowest category on the statewide reading test be held back in school beginning in the 2016-17 school year. The bill also would increase support for struggling readers in kindergarten through eighth grade.
The retention provision in the bill would not apply to special education students, students proficient in another language or students with less than two years of English instruction.
The measure passed the House but faces obstacles in the Senate, where the Public Affairs Committee tabled its companion bill on Thursday.
Current law allows schools to hold back a student if they are not reading at grade level, but a parent may block that retention. If the student is not proficient by the end of the next year, however, the student shall be held back but only for one year, according to current statute – although in practice it is rare.
Advocates for third-grade retention say it is needed to address the high rates of New Mexico students who are not reading at grade level. So-called social promotion of struggling third-graders only makes school harder for them, advocates of retention argue.
Opponents say parents should have a say in whether a child is held back, and some point to studies that say retention doesn’t help and increases future dropout rates.
According to the poll, Republicans are more likely to support third-grade retention, at 79 percent, compared with Democrats, at 63 percent. Sixty percent of Independents supported retention.
Independents were most likely to oppose retention, at 33 percent, followed by Democrats, at 28 percent. Only 10 percent of Republicans opposed retention.
Younger registered voters are less likely to support retention than their older counterparts – although a majority do.
The poll asked: “Do you support or oppose a state law that would require public schools to hold back third-graders from advancing to the fourth grade if they do not have adequate reading skills?”
The Journal Poll was conducted Feb. 17-19 and is based on a scientific, statewide sample of 402 registered voters. The margin of error for the sample is plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.
All interviews were conducted by phone by professional interviewers, with multiple callbacks to households that did not initially answer the phone. Fifty-two percent of the calls were to cellphones.