District has plans to deal with 3rd-grade 'guarantee'
Forty-nine Westerville third-graders failed state reading exams with scores so low that they had to be considered for retention under the state's new third-grade reading guarantee.
In all, only five of the students did not advance to the fourth grade, said district Elementary Academic Affairs Executive Director David Baker, and other factors played a part in those students' retention.
"We were looking at other things for those five students; it wasn't just their third-grade reading," Baker told the Westerville Board of Education during a report on the district's compliance with the law Aug. 7.
"That was good news: (School officials) already had been having those (retention) conversations with moms and dads, and it wasn't a surprise to their parents."
The remaining 44 low-scoring students who did begin fourth grade last week will face intense reading intervention this school year, Baker said.
Next year, however, school administrators, teachers and parents will not have the discretion to pass students who don't make the reading benchmark on state exams, Baker said. Students may be allowed to advance in other subjects while being retained for reading, he said.
With the exception of the policy on retention, the new state law largely echoes what Westerville already was doing to ensure students are on track in reading, Baker said.
The district long has provided diagnostic reading tests each year to students in kindergarten through third grade and provided intervention where needed, Baker said.
Under state guidelines, the tests must be administered by Sept. 30.
On last year's diagnostic test, a total of 939 students were identified as being not on track for reading, Baker said: 135 in kindergarten, 287 in first grade, 269 in second grade and 248 in third grade.
Of the 248 third-graders who were behind at the beginning of the 2012-13 school year, 102 failed the spring state assessment, Baker said.
To help provide the necessary intervention this school year, the district has hired additional full-time employees, engaged parents in reading programs and brought in volunteers to elementary buildings with high numbers of struggling students, Baker said.
"We're trying to get support from anyone we can to get those students over that hurdle," he said.
At least 12 AmeriCorps volunteers will join the district this year to help provide reading intervention, Baker said.
As the 2013-14 early reading assessments come in, the district will shuffle intervention specialists as needed to schools with the highest need, he said.
Superintendent John Kellogg said the district is working hard to prevent students from being retained under the state law, because he said research shows that retaining students is detrimental to their academic improvement.
"It's not an effective process," Kellogg said.
It does show that the district is making progress with students that of the 248 third-graders who were identified as not being on track at the beginning of the school year, only 49 had to be considered for retention, Kellogg said.
"Those numbers are pretty good: It demonstrates that we're making progress," he said.