Worthington News

Complying with state law

Board looks at new policy of flunking struggling third-graders

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

Ohio lawmakers are requiring schools to return to the practice of "flunking" students, and some Worthington educators are not pleased.

During the Aug. 27 Worthington Board of Education meeting, a policy was introduced to require that third-graders be retained if they do not meet state reading standards.

All Ohio districts must approve such a policy by the end of September, according to Ohio Senate Bill 316.

The law goes into effect next year. At the end of the 2013-14 school year, all third-graders who do not show "the appropriate level of reading proficiency" must repeat the third grade.

The state has not defined many of the terms of the new law and has not determined the cut-off point that will determine who goes on to the fourth grade, and who is "held back."

Superintendent Thomas Tucker said he believes the requirement would mean that 10 students in Worthington would be held back each year, though no one knows for sure.

Currently, decisions about issues like retention are made by teachers working with parents. The law leaves no room for parent-teacher decisions, board president Jennifer Best said.

"To me, automatic retention is wrong; it is just wrong," she said.

Tucker said the district would follow the law but that it has a "moral obligation to lobby our lawmakers and state board of education."

Worthington could protect its students, but the district must keep in mind the other students across Franklin County and the state, he said.

The people who crafted the law did not look at its implications closely enough, he said.

A lot of things need to be rethought, Tucker said.

"I couldn't agree more," board member Charlie Wilson said.

The law requires that every student in kindergarten through third grade be evaluated by Sept. 30 to identify those who are reading below the expected proficiency range for his or her grade level.

If a third-grader is not meeting the mark, the parents are notified and intervention is provided, with the district developing a reading improvement and monitoring program within 60 days of receiving results of the evaluation.

Worthington already evaluates each child three times a year, developing education plans based on the outcomes and monitoring individual progress for all students.

"We feel, for the most part, we are doing all of this in Worthington," said Jennifer Wene, the district's director of academic achievement and professional development.

What the district does not do is hold children back. For a third-grader who is not meeting reading expectations, repeating the third grade would not necessarily build reading skills, said Jamie Lusher, the district's coordinator of language arts.

The law also requires that the district provides each retained student with "a high-performing teacher" and offer an option to receive services from providers outside the district.

The definition of a "high-performing teacher" has yet to be determined, Wene said.

Ohio Department of Education officials have said the district would be responsible for paying for outside help, according to board member Marc Schare. The cost has not been determined.

"It is an unfunded mandate at this point," district treasurer Jeff McCune said.

Many discussions still need to occur before this law takes hold, Wene said. She pledged to protect Worthington's students.

"These are our students, so we are not going to do harm," she said. "I promise you that."

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