Bexley News

Guest column

Third-Grade Reading Guarantee about ensuring success

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The March 5, 2013, edition of ThisWeek Bexley News included an article about Ohio's new Third-Grade Reading Guarantee. This new initiative is not about holding our children back, but instead evaluating their progress starting in kindergarten and ensuring their success long into the future.

The Third-Grade Reading Guarantee is an important step that the legislature has undertaken with educators to ensure that our children build a strong foundation for future learning. As early as February 2013, the Senate undertook further legislation to build upon feedback from educators in our communities to improve the Third-Grade Reading Guarantee. Through Senate Bill 21, we expanded the opportunities for teachers to qualify as instructors for at-risk readers in order to make it less burdensome for schools to implement the improved standards.

The need for a greater emphasis on strengthening reading skills at an early age is clear. A study supported by the Annie E. Casey Foundation shows that a student who is not reading at grade level by the end of third grade is four times more likely to drop out of high school.

It is important to understand that the Third-Grade Reading Guarantee is not just a test that will be administered in the third grade, but a comprehensive reading initiative that will begin in kindergarten.

Our young readers will take diagnostic assessments each year K-3. If at any point along the way a student is facing difficulty, a reading improvement plan will be implemented. This will include intensive reading instruction using proven research-based strategies to specifically address the needs of students who have fallen behind.

Parents will be alerted if their student is struggling and kept informed of the assistance provided to their student. Our hope is to keep our kids on a constantly improving path, beginning in kindergarten, so that they will continue to be successful through the third grade and beyond.

It is also important to know that students will have more than one opportunity to demonstrate that they have reached the bar and are ready to move on to the fourth grade. The state's third-grade reading assessment will be given twice each school year and the Ohio Department of Education will also be recommending an alternative assessment that a school could use to provide students with a third opportunity.

Some students will receive exemptions from the retention requirement. This includes students with special needs who have an Individual Education Plan and those who have received intensive reading intervention for two school years and had previously been retained in any of grades K-3 as long as the student continues to receive intensive reading instruction in the fourth grade.

It is also important to note that if a child is in fact retained in the third grade, they will receive additional learning time devoted to reading with an experienced instructor. If a child catches up to grade level, they will have the opportunity to be promoted to the fourth grade mid-year.

Ohio's Third-Grade Reading Guarantee was modeled after the successful program that Florida began in 2003. Florida's law was the subject of an August 2012 Brookings Institute study, which showed that students retained in the third grade performed at a higher level for several years following the retention than their peers who moved on to the fourth grade at the traditional rate.

While many are worried about the social impact of retaining a child in third grade, as the father of three young girls, I know the social impact would be far greater if we allowed our children to continue in their education with the persistent sense of failure felt by a non-reader.

We have an obligation to our children to give them the best education possible and the Third-Grade Reading Guarantee is one step toward meeting that commitment.

It is for that reason that I am proud to have joined with the Democratic state senator who now represents the Bexley City School District, Charleta Tavares, in voting to make this important initiative Ohio law. As we advance from this point, I look forward to hearing additional feedback from our educators so that we can make Ohio schools the best they can be.

State Sen. Kevin Bacon represents the 3rd District in the Ohio Senate. He serves as chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Commerce & Labor.

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