Upper Arlington's elementary principals are mulling over the ever-changing details of the state's new Third Grade Guarantee.
The unfunded state mandate not only requires third-graders to test at grade level in reading before advancing to fourth grade, but requires schools to send "not on track" letters to parents of some children just beginning a grade.
Principals Steve Scarpitti from Windermere; Tom Bates, Tremont; Jason Wulf, Greensview; Assistant Principal Angie Ullum, Barrington and Associate Superintendent Debi Binkley presented the details of the Third Grade Guarantee to the Upper Arlington City Schools Board of Education at a workshop Monday, Jan. 28.
Ullum said Senate Bill 316 amended a law known as the Third Grade Guarantee, which requires all students to be reading at grade level when they leave third grade, as measured by the Ohio Achievement Assessment.
She said beginning with the 2013-14 school year, all third-graders must demonstrate a certain level of competency in reading before advancing to fourth grade.
"The purpose of the law is to diagnose reading deficiencies in grades kindergarten through grade three," Ullum said.
She said reading diagnostic tests must be given to students in grades K-3 by Sept. 30 of each year. Students are then identified as "on track" or "not on track," for their grade level, based on previous end-of-year reading standards.
This means some parents may receive letters about their child being "not on track" at the beginning of the school year.
Scarpitti said "not on track" letters were sent beginning this school year, in October 2012.
He said students who were identified as "not on track" for reading at grade level would be given reading intervention and research-based reading strategies under a Reading Improvement and Monitoring Plan.
"What we did this year was fold the RIMP plans into our parent/teacher conferences," he said. "Those parents had already been sent a letter, so we could also discuss the RIMP plans."
Ullum said the letters could be alarming to some parents, since students may be identified as "not on track" based on one diagnostic assessment.
Wulf pointed out an important "catch" in the requirements of the Third Grade Guarantee -- each child on an RIMP must be taught by a "credentialed teacher" who has been "actively engaged in reading instruction for the previous three years" and has either a "reading endorsement, master's degree with major in reading, rating of 'above' value-added for the last two school years" or a credential from a program on an Ohio Department of Education-approved list of scientifically research-based reading instruction programs.
"Because of maternity leave, our teachers who had been engaged in reading instruction would not be eligible under these mandates, because they had not been actively engaged in reading instruction for the previous three years," Wulf said.
The law requires districts to submit a plan to ODE by June 30, 2013, if they do not have enough credentialed teaches to fulfill the requirements, Wulf said.
If that plan is rejected by ODE, the district must use an "ODE-approved private provider" for intervention services. Districts would have to pay for those private providers, Wulf said.
Teachers who want to attain the extra reading credentials may have to take classes that could cost around $6,800, Ullum said.
Other reading requirements under the guarantee state that retained third-graders must receive at least 90 minutes of daily reading instruction.
"That requirement could have huge staffing implications," Ullum said. "We may have some students taking reading intervention for 90 minutes, then taking fourth-grade classes the rest of the day, if they were proficient in other subjects."
Bates said the Third Grade Guarantee keeps changing. He said a math and writing requirement was recently added, requiring diagnostic tests in grades 1-3.
Districts will also receive a grade on the state report card that measures how well they are making progress in improving literacy in grades K-3.
Scarpitti said assessments were already in place to identify students who need intervention.
"Typically, when we receive the OAA score we are not surprised," he said. "We know when a student has had some history of reading problems."
Binkley said the district applied for an early literacy and reading readiness grant from ODE, which could provide up to $250,000 for reading intervention expenses.
She said despite the problems with the new law, the goals behind it are important.
"Any time you can serve one or two more kids than you did in the past, that is a good thing," she said.