Olentangy Valley News

White: Hold back poor readers in first grade

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

One Olentangy school board member says a new state-mandated reading requirement for third-graders doesn't go far enough.

Board member Adam White said the district should intervene and hold students back even earlier than is now required under a new state law that blocks third-graders from moving into fourth grade if they don't score high enough on a state reading test.

The board approved a policy to comply with the so-called third-grade guarantee at its Sept. 25 business meeting. It doesn't kick in until the 2013-14 school year, but the policy specifies the district will begin to identify students who are falling behind this year.

But White said the district should adopt even harsher standards and hold back students starting in first grade if their reading skills don't measure up.

He first made the suggestion at the board's Sept. 13 meeting during a discussion of the new regulation.

"If they can't read by third grade, that means they've wasted three years in school," White said. "We should implement our own guarantee and make it first grade."

In fact, the district intervenes when students are struggling to read even earlier than that: Starting in kindergarten, struggling students receive individualized, targeted instruction.

The district also completes periodic reviews to determine which students are off track.

Olentangy students have been held back only after all other options are exhausted and after consulting with parents and teachers to look for alternatives, according to Director of Secondary Education Mark Raiff.

But under the new regulations, signed into law by Gov. John Kasich in June, students will be retained automatically in third grade if they score below 392 out of 500 points on the reading portion of the Ohio Achievement Test.

White's suggestion garnered little support among the rest of the board. Some said even a third-grade rule will hurt, not help students, noting the district has no choice but to comply.

Raiff said research shows students become discouraged and detached when they are held back. He said promoting students while providing one-on-one attention gets better results.

"It does not prove fruitful retaining kids," he said. "Keeping them back does not help them. It damages their self-esteem and it puts them outside their peer group."

Ultimately, few Olentangy students will be affected. Last year, just 75 students weren't proficient in reading, and the majority of those are students with disabilities or students learning English as a second language. Those students are exempt under the law.

On Sept. 19, White said he maintains his belief that a stricter policy would be better. But when he cast the sole vote against the new policy, he cited a separate concern: He said he didn't have enough time to read the 15-page policy before the board meeting, held at 6 p.m. Sept. 25. He later said he meant to abstain.

The policy was distributed to board members around 10 a.m. Sept. 24, allowing less than the minimum 48 hours that members typically have to review policies before voting on them.

"We discussed it at the last work session," said Julie Wagner Feasel. "We knew it was going to be coming late because the state board of education didn't approve the guidelines until last week and I have been updating (the rest of the board) constantly since this went through the statehouse. You don't have a lot of leeway."

The 4-1 vote allowed the district to meet a deadline from the state to comply by the end of the month.

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