More than a third of Whitehall's third-graders failed the state reading test this fall, which means they could be held back if they don't improve their scores.

More than a third of Whitehall's third-graders failed the state reading test this fall, which means they could be held back if they don't improve their scores.

Numbers released by the Ohio Department of Education indicate 38 percent of Whitehall City School District third-graders who took Ohio's reading assessment in the fall did not meet the required 392 score. With the state's new Third Grade Reading Guarantee now in place, nearly 100 students could be held back if they don't score out of the basic range during spring testing.

The data is similar to state numbers released earlier this month, and historically representative as well, said district Superintendent Brian Hamler.

"We know that with those numbers, there's a lot of work to be done as there is every year," Hamler said.

With the stakes so high this year, though, Hamler said he's thinking outside the box in response to the legislation.

"We're going to follow the letter of the law, but how we do that -- we're going to get creative," he said.

The answer could be using multiage classrooms that would allow students to be promoted, in a sense, with their peers, while still focusing on the third-grade reading curriculum.

"The model makes sense to me," he said. "I'm not saying that's the model we're going to use, but that's what I'm looking at hard right now."

He cautioned that the idea is premature, and added he has not yet discussed it with teachers. He also plans to meet with other school districts to discuss their course of action.

Intense remediation already is under way for students who did not meet the state benchmark on the fall reading tests. Hamler said a number of intervention efforts already were in place under the district's current programs. Currently, students are placed in one of the intervention programs based on their individual needs, he said, but can move out and into another program if teachers don't see results.

Susie Carr, the district's assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said Whitehall uses several different methods apart from state testing to judge third-graders' reading skills. The district administers a universal screener that measures both a student's reading fluency and comprehension, she said. In addition, teachers give a literacy assessment and diagnostic test to all students that measures both comprehension and writing skills.

Different tests and screeners also are administered to English Language Learners and to students with disabilities -- some of whom are exempt from the new law.

Once students are assessed, they receive tailored intervention for 45 minutes each day. The district also provides an after-school program and extra help during summer school.

Carr said all students are continually assessed throughout the year in order to keep a handle on individual progress.

While Hamler said the law draws attention to the importance of early literacy, he said he does not agree with retaining students as a flat response to an arbitrary benchmark.

"I'm not sure I'm sold on the idea that the intervention needs to be the same for every child," he said. "It works for certain students, but it doesn't work for all students."