Delaware News

Leaders say new state law handcuffs district

Third-graders who fail reading test must be held back, state mandates

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The Third-Grade Reading Guarantee, part of Ohio House Bill 316, still has a lot of kinks to work out, say some Delaware City School District educators.

The guarantee, ratified June 13, requires all third-grade students to pass a state third-grade reading test in order to move on to fourth grade.

The only exceptions are for special-education students and English learners who have had fewer than two years of instruction.

Amy Piacentino, director of curriculum and programming, said Delaware schools have begun to feel the effects of the new legislation.

"We are required by law to have all reading assessments done by Sept. 30 for third-graders to decide if they are either on track or not on track," she said.

Piacentino said one of Delaware leaders' main concerns is the digression of students from their studies during the summer, and teachers not having enough time to give them a "refresher" before having to assess their skill level.

"We want to be able to give them instruction before we have to test them," she said. "We just won't have enough time."

After the testing is complete, educators have to send a letter home to the parents of students who are "not on track." The schools then have to develop a reading intervention plan that will involve the parents.

She said parents have proven to be receptive and positive about making changes at home in order to help their children fare better in school.

Piacentino said another concern is the requirement to hold a child back, even when teachers feel he or she doesn't need to be held back, in order to comply with the law.

"This law takes away our ability to use discretion if we feel a student shouldn't be retained," she said. "These are third-grade children. They may have had a bad testing day, but we no longer have a say."

Piacentino said sometimes if a student doesn't do well on testing, but teachers feel they can provide the intervention needed, they will move him or her to the next grade level.

"If a child's dog is sick or if they were tired or distracted, and they get say 389 out of 390, they will have to be retained," she said.

She said district leaders don't believe every student who does poorly on a test should be held back.

"Certainly our goal has been to make sure students make progress and are on the right track," she said. "However, retention hasn't made sense for most students."

Piacentino said the bill also takes away a parent's right to decide if they want their child to be retained.

"We would never have made this decision without the parents being on board," she said. "Now we have to mandate this without the parents having a final say."

Other parts of House Bill 316 have presented problems around the state, Piacentino said, and they affect Delaware as well.

"Every teacher is required to have a reading endorsement," she said. "If the teacher has a master's (degree) in reading or literacy, that doesn't count. They must have this endorsement."

Piacentino said although there are some major concerns with the bill, the district already has been providing intervention and instruction for students who aren't meeting the requirements.

"We only have a handful of students that we're greatly concerned about," she said. "Quite frankly, though, if it was just one student, we'd still be concerned."

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