Ohio's education system should seek intervention, not retention
When I walk my son to Cassingham Elementary School, I am reminded of how fortunate we are to live in Bexley.
The hallways are filled with laughter and excited children who seem eager to learn. Our school's excellent teachers and staff are attentive, nurturing and approachable. Bexley's schools overall enjoy strong community support and parental involvement. This translates into high academic achievement and students who are fully prepared to move into higher grades.
This is why I have mixed feelings about the implementation of certain provisions contained in Ohio's Third Grade Reading Guarantee. This initiative, enacted last year as part of Senate Bill 316, is intended to improve reading proficiency in the earlier elementary grades. Any child who is not reading at grade level by the end of third grade must be held back.
Specifically, the new state law requires schools to evaluate students in K-3 by Sept. 30 each year. If a child is not reading at grade level, the school must implement a Reading and Improvement Monitoring Plan to address the reading deficiencies. Parents and guardians also are notified if their child is not reading at grade level.
Beginning this year, third-graders must also meet a minimum score on the Ohio Achievement Assessment. This score must be attained either in the fall or spring administration of the OAA. If the child does not meet this score, he or she will be retained in third grade. Exemptions are available to certain students learning English and students with learning disabilities.
Historically, Bexley has been successful in assessing the reading capabilities of its students and providing programs to assist children in developing reading skills.
Students are frequently tested using assessment measures throughout the school year. The district monitors students' progress and uses this information to modify instructional practices. Thus, Bexley has been making similar efforts, as mandated by the law, to identify and support struggling readers.
And it seems that Bexley's approach is working. Bexley's schools have received the Ohio Department of Education's "excellent with distinction" rating for 12 consecutive years.
In the past year, U.S. News and World Report ranked Bexley High School as the fifth-highest-performing high school in Ohio, and Newsweek magazine ranked it No. 228 on its "America's Best High Schools" list.
Legislators argue that this unfunded mandate will ultimately help children, but research demonstrates that retention does not work.
While it is clear that early reading proficiency is critical, Ohio's Third Grade Reading Guarantee is not informed by current research or best practices. Studies suggest that retention results in increased dropout rates, lower self-esteem and lower rates of school attendance, and poorer post-education employment outcomes.
Students learn differently, and exposing students to the same material for another year does not necessarily fix the problem.
Instead, the most successful districts -- such as Bexley -- use testing along with early identification and intervention, close monitoring and personal attention to ensure students are reading at grade level.
Whether a student should be required to repeat a grade should be decided by those who know him or her best -- teachers and staff -- not by the outcome of a state-mandated test.
Anne Brown is a member of the Bexley Board of Education.