Bexley News

Third-Grade Reading Guarantee

School district letter outlines issues with new law

Officials question using one test as the basis, impact on social growth

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Educators with Bexley City Schools are unhappy with the state's proposed Third-Grade Reading Guarantee and have written Ohio Sen. Kevin Bacon (R-Minerva Park) to voice their concerns.

The Third-Grade Reading Guarantee is part of Senate Bill 316, which Gov. John Kasich signed into law last June. It mandates that districts retain third-graders who do not meet prescribed literacy benchmarks.

If students are deemed "off-track," the school district must identify and administer interventions with parent input within a predetermined time period.

Benchmarks were released in September by the State Board of Education, which has decided to use the Ohio Achievement Assessment as the universal test for the new law. Students in third grade must score 392 or better out of the 500 points on the reading portion of the third-grade test to be promoted to fourth grade.

Districts are being given one year to put a plan into action to address the new law, but they must abide by the retention rules next school year.

Students on an Individualized Education Plan are not exempt from the law, unless students have an IEP that explicitly states they are exempt from retention due to their reading score.

Bexley school board members discussed the law last month at their regular monthly meeting, endorsing a letter written by school officials in Worthington pointing out some of the deficits of the law.

Bexley school board President Carol Fey, Superintendent Michael Johnson, and Laura Lipsett, director of curriculum for the Bexley City Schools, also co-authored their own letter, which they sent along to Bacon late last month.

"We believe there is some good in this law," said Lipsett when presenting Worthington's letter to the board in February.

But that there is concern amongst Bexley educators -- and others -- when it comes to mandatory retention based on a single assessment without flexibility or exceptions.

"This law, if implemented as currently written, will impact negatively the academic and social-emotional growth of many children in Bexley and throughout the state of Ohio," Johnson, Fey and Lipsett said in their letter.

"Whereas the importance of ensuring children in the primary grades acquire adequate literacy skills is well-documented (if not, there's a higher likelihood of continued struggles, higher risk for academic failure and dropout), there is much research to indicate that mandatory retention may not be the best approach for these children," the letter continues.

The district also cited research that indicates a single exam is not an accurate litmus test when measuring literacy skills.

"Research also indicates the importance of using multiple measures as well as using 'potential for growth measures' that are more responsive to reading failure as they particularly relate to school readiness issues often linked with children who come from low-income families," Johnson, Fey and Lipsett indicate in the letter to Bacon.

"Whereas we support the need to assure that third-grade students are on track for reading, we believe the law in its current form will have dire and unintended consequences for many of Ohio's children. At minimum, we ask that the portion of the law that requires mandatory retention based on a single-source assessment, the OAA in reading, be repealed."

Lipsett said the new law is based on programs that have gone into effect in the state of Florida -- and have been somewhat successful. But even there, she said, there is some flexibility in the law.

The law has been on the books in Florida for about a decade now.

Ohio is one of several states, including Arizona, Colorado, Indiana, Oklahoma and Tennessee, that recently approved or are either introducing or reintroducing the idea.

But in some of those states, exceptions allow children who fail the reading test to be promoted anyway. In Indiana, students who fail the reading test can still technically advance to fourth grade -- they just need to stay enrolled in third-grade reading instruction and re-take the third-grade reading test.

In Tennessee, students can advance if they get tutoring over the summer.

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