Worthington News

Third Grade Reading Guarantee

Board votes 4-1 to comply with new law


The Worthington Board of Education on Sept. 24 voted 4-1 to approve a measure to require retention of all third-graders who don't meet the state reading standards.

The board's vote was an act of compliance with a new state law. Senate Bill 316, which Gov. John Kasich signed into law in June, will go into effect beginning with the 2013-14 school year. 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's reading level is not deemed proficient, 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.

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.

Board president Jennifer Best cast the lone dissenting vote.

Currently, decisions about issues like retention are made by teachers working with parents. The law leaves no room for parent-teacher decisions, Best said. She said she believes intensive intervention to ensure that all students can read by third grade is a worthwhile goal.

"I do not think automatic retention based on one test for third-graders is appropriate," she said. "We need an exception that if a parent, teacher and principal think promotion is in the best interest of the student -- with intense intervention -- we can make that happen."

Best said research indicates retention is expensive, often of no benefit to students and sometimes is detrimental.

"Retained students rarely make academic progress in the retained year and are 20 percent more likely to eventually drop out of school," she said.

Best said she had hoped the board would have drafted a resolution citing concerns, such as the lack of local control and a "very frustrating" response from the state Senate education committee chair.

"Because I feel I have exhausted all other avenues to show my frustration with the automatic retention, I plan to vote no on this policy evening," she said.

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."

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, said Jennifer Wene, the district's director of academic achievement and professional development.

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.

ThisWeek staff writer Candy Brooks contributed to this story.