SALT LAKE CITY — Making sure children are good readers before they move up a grade is the goal of a bill by Sen. Karen Morgan, D-Cottonwood Heights.

The proposed legislation passed unanimously through the Senate Education Committee Thursday and is set for debate by the Senate.

SB150 would require that first-, second- and third-graders read at or above grade level prior to advancing.

"Reading achievement is vital to student success," Morgan said. She said once a student gets behind in reading, there is a domino effect that can result in discouragement, behavioral problems and even dropping out of school.

The proposal would require schools to inform parents before the middle of the school year if there is any possibility the student might not be promoted.

Schools would use multiple tests to judge the student. Students would have until Aug. 15 to demonstrate proficiency.

The bill would allow principals to overturn the decision if they deemed it to be in the best interest of the student. There would be exemptions for students with disabilities. Schools would have to provide tutoring.

"I can't think of any success that can compensate for our failure in teaching kids to read," said state Superintendent Larry Shumway.

The bill will likely be hotly debated among educators.

Jill Snyder, language-arts supervisor for Davis School District, said it isn't common practice to flunk students if they are lacking in reading skills. Generally, students move on with their classmates while teachers continue to work with them.

"We don't hold them back," Snyder said. "We continue to support them and try to get them up on grade level."

Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, said he is torn over the bill. He likes the idea of encouraging reading but pointed out many kids learn at different levels.

Stephenson went on to vote for the legislation, after which he said the bill is a wake-up call for parents. "It lets them have a warning that if they're not doing their part, this may be the result," he said, but added he wants to work with Morgan to amend the bill so there are consequences for parents, teachers and administrators.

The State Board of Education hasn't taken a position on the bill. State superintendents and the School Boards Association plan to discuss the bill Friday.

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