Westerville News & Public Opinion

'Third-Grade Reading Guarantee'

District leaders say they're ready for new law

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When it comes to meeting the state's so-called Third-Grade Reading Guarantee, Westerville City Schools are ready.

The district already focuses heavily on reading intervention and student assessment, district officials said.

"It's really formalizing what we already do," said district Executive Director of Elementary Academic Affairs David Baker. "It's putting into very prescriptive legislation that school districts will do diagnostic assessment at the beginning of the year."

Under the legislation, which was passed last summer, Ohio schools were required to test the reading skills of students in kindergarten through third grade by Sept. 30. The district is then required to provide intervention for students whose tests show they are reading below grade level.

"Monitoring our students' progress in reading, that is not a new notion in Westerville City Schools. That is something that has been in place for a number of years because that is a best practice," said district Chief Academic Officer Karen McClellan. "This is something that we always have done, monitoring those reading benchmarks for our students."

But starting in the 2013-2014 school year, districts also will be required to hold back third-grade students who score below 392 points out of a possible 500 points on the assessments.

The Westerville City Schools Board of Education heard the first reading of legislation to implement the Third-Grade Guarantee at its Sept. 24 meeting. A vote on the legislation is expected at its Oct. 8 meeting.

The district is optimistic about the ability of the new state requirements to help students.

"The exciting thing to me is the parents will be identified. The students that need the help will be specifically identified with a letter to the parents, and the parents will be part of the team," said Machelle Kline, district director of assessment and alternative education services.

"Just think about all these children who are getting this formalized help, these are children then who won't be behind grade level at fourth, fifth, sixth seventh and eighth grade -- so there won't be the remediation there."

The guarantee does leave the district with several unknowns, however, including the cost.

It's projected that the district will need to hire 14 additional full-time reading intervention specialists in the 2013-2014 school year, McClellan said.

It's also possible that the state will allow for students to receive intervention over the summer months, meaning the district likely would see an influx of students in its summer programs, Kline said.

The state law also allows students to receive intervention from providers outside the district, but it's unclear who those providers will be and who will foot the bill for their services, Baker said.

The district also is unsure of how many students would be held back to repeat third grade under the guarantee.

Under last year's assessments, 58 of the more than 1,000 students tested did not meet the state's benchmark, Baker said.

However, there are four conditions under which students do not have to be held back; there are provisions for students who speak English as a second language, students with disabilities, students that have been held back previously and students who have had two years of intense reading services already, Baker said.

The district also might be able to promote a student to fourth grade who is performing well in other subjects but retain them for reading at the third-grade level, Baker said.

The district does have some reservations about the state determining which students should be held back.

"I go back to my philosophy on retention (which) has always been it's a very, very individualized decision," Baker said. "This is much more prescriptive as to when a child needs to be promoted or retained."

McClellan agreed, saying many teaching philosophies say retention isn't always the best approach for students.

"You're walking down a path of some very different philosophical ideas on retention," McClellan said. "It does need to be a team decision because that is the most significant intervention. It's 180 days in the same grade level."

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