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Some families in Tulsa, Okla., recently received a brochure that surely grabbed their attention. The title? “Will your child pass third grade?”

Produced by the 15,000-student Union district, the handout explains the state’s pending reading requirements for students to advance to the 4th grade. It also outlines what the district is doing to help students read and offers tips for what parents can do at home.

Oklahoma is one of several states that recently adopted new reading policies that—with limited exceptions—call for 3rd graders to be held back if they flunk a state standardized test.

All the plans appear to take a page from the playbook in Florida, where a policy to end the social promotion of 3rd graders was enacted under former Gov. Jeb Bush.

Supporters say that retention is intended as a last resort, and that a key goal of the policies is to place a greater focus—and apply some extra pressure—to make sure schools intervene early with struggling readers. Without an adequate ability to read, they say, children are ill-equipped to learn across disciplines and may never catch up.

But critics say that it’s misguided to base a promotion decision on a standardized-test score, and that holding a child back may do more harm than good.

They also express concern over whether states will provide the money to help districts succeed with students deficient in reading, especially in a time of tight budgets.

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