Ohio school districts, this month, are implementing the first step in the state’s new Third Grade Reading Guarantee which requires all kindergarten to third grade students attending public or charter schools be given a reading diagnostic assessment by Sept. 30.
Third graders who do not read at grade level by the end of the school year, will not move on to fourth grade.
“It really isn’t a situation where we are trying to punish students, not at all,” Richard A. Ross, superintendent of public instruction for the Ohio Department of Education said. “…if a student is not able to read at the third grade level in third grade, they are not going to be hopeful about themselves if they are being socially promoted.”
Four school districts out of more than 50 in the Miami Valley did not meet the state’s 75 percent proficiency standard for third-grade reading on 2012-13 Ohio Achievement Assessments (OAA), according to state report card data.
Three of the districts — Dayton, Jefferson Twp. and Trotwood-Madison — are in Montgomery County and one, Springfield City Schools, is in Clark County. All districts in Campaign, Greene, Miami and Warren counties met the state standard, but none had a 100 percentage proficiency rate.
The Ohio Department of Education estimated that, based on 2010-11 test scores, about 10,000 students across the state could be eligible for retention.
“We’ve been providing good intervention to students who struggle all along,”Eric Herman, superintendent of Troy City Schools said. “It’s just going to change the consequences for some kids and it’s not going to make them happy. I’m concerned we are going to catch some parents who don’t understand what’s going on.”
Reading emphasis is national effort
At least 22 states have policies centered on third grade reading, according to an Education Commission for the States study. Many states developing retention plans, including Ohio, looked at Florida’s policy, which began in 2003.
In its first year, Florida retained 23,348 third graders, about 13.2 percent of the total, for scoring at Level One on the five-point, Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.
The percentage of retained students fell to 5.9 percent by the 2009-10 school year, then the state raised the bar. During the 2011-12 school year 6.9 percent of third graders were retained. Laurie Lee, a reading specialist for Just Read, Florida! said the key has been providing teachers with professional development and making sure when students are retained, the educational experience is not a repeat of the prior year.
In Montgomery County, ensuring third graders can read has become a community-wide movement, through Learn to Earn Dayton initiatives. The non-profit, with support from all school superintendents in the county, launched the Read-On campaign last month to encourage everyone to get involved in helping young readers get on track.
“We learn to read, so we can read to learn the rest of our lives,” Tom Lasley, executive director of Learn to Earn said. “We’re working on the catch up. We’re working on closing the gap.”
About 78 percent of Montgomery County’s third graders earned scores that were proficient or above on the OAA in 2010-11, according to Learn to Earn Dayton. There were wide disparities between district scores.
Oakwood City Schools saw 98.8 percent of its third graders score proficient on the test, while 55 percent of students in Jefferson Twp. read proficiently.
“There’s no silver bullet here. There is work to be done,” Richard Gates, superintendent of Jefferson Twp. schools, said. “We’re pouring everything into literacy. We are pulling out all the stops.”
Students at the district’s only elementary school, Blairwood, get a new book to take home every week. The books from A-Z Reading, are downloadable and the district prints them on a copy machine.
“I’m not saying it’s a magical fix, but we’ve turned the elementary school into a literacy center,” Gates said.
Tony Thomas, assistant superintendent of Northmont City Schools, said the district has always made reading a priority, so the guarantee didn’t require a lot of change.
“I feel like we’re prepared,” Thomas said. “As always, Northmont will continue to drive kids forward.”
How it works
Ohio’s Third Grade Reading Guarantee begins with the diagnostic assessment, to provide insight into the specific reading deficiency of each child. Reading improvement and monitoring plans, for kindergarten to third graders, must be developed within 60 days for any student who is not on track.
“The diagnostic is not just to get a score. It’s also an opportunity for a teacher to figure out, in depth, what the child needs as far as reading instruction in the future,” Kevin Duff, policy analyst for the Ohio Department of Education, said.
Jeremy Miller, director of curriculum and instruction for Centerville City Schools, said the amount of work involved with giving the assessments at the start of the school year has been overwhelming to teachers.
The district already does diagnostic testing using an assessment aligned to its curriculum. That assessment, however, is not on the state’s vendor approved list, so kids in Centerville had to be assessed twice this year.
“We have to evaluate how valid and reliable this new assessment is,” Miller said.
After the assessments, parents will be notified if their child is not reading on grade level. The notice includes a warning about possible retention.
“Parents are encouraged to come in and work with the teacher to create a reading improvement plan,” Duff said.
Who gets held back
In the spring, third graders take the OAA test. A score of 400 on the reading portion is considered proficient. Students who score below 392, may be retained. Based on 2010-11 state and school district data, an estimated 30 percent of Ohio’s third graders including 500 Montgomery County students may not make that cut.
Assessment costs aside, retaining a child costs an average of $10,297 per year, according to an Education Commission of the States study. A Dayton Daily News analysis based on 2010-11 state data found that a sampling of 34 area school districts could collectively spend nearly $20 million annually to meet the mandate. Most of those costs could come from an extra year of schooling for children who do not pass the third-grade reading test.
Some students with disabilities are exempt from retention as are English as a Second Language students in a United States school for less than three years. Students retained once who received at least two years of reading intervention will not be retained a second time.
Duff said third graders who fall below the cut score will receive reading intervention during the summer and can retake the test before school starts..
“We’re going to have to rethink how we do our summer programs,” Brad Silvus, director of curriculum and instruction for Fairborn City School said. “We’re not just targeting students for intervention who didn’t make the 392 cut score, but also ones who are little above it. Our goal is to have all students reading at the proficient level.”
Students who are retained must be given additional reading instruction every day.
“I have had superintendents tell me third grade reading is an unfunded mandate,” Ross said. “…how much does it cost us to say we’re going to go from 90 minutes of reading instruction a day to 120. Is that a dollar amount or is that a prioritization?”
Ross said the state also distributed $1.3 billion to school districts as part of the school funding formula and has another $250 million in its Straight A Fund, which districts can apply for to raise the efficiency and effectiveness of operations to improve student achievement.
Last year, 966 Dayton Public third graders took the reading test and 54.8 percent or 529 children were proficient. Superintendent Lori Ward said it was a struggle to determine how to prepare for the reading guarantee.
“We firmly believe nothing can replace a high quality teacher. If we can make sure we have the best primary teachers in those grades, by the time our babies hit fourth grade we can take them,” Ward said. “We can make sure they are college and career ready.”
Dayton teachers with special reading certifications were asked to move into kindergarten to third classrooms. The district has about 100 primary teachers with special reading certifications and an additional 40 working toward one.
“We developed a talent management program to make sure we had the right talent in the right classroom,” Ward said.
But, there are other issues even the best classroom teachers can’t change.
Dayton generally opens the school year with about 1,200 kindergartners, by third grade only 50 percent of those students still attend school in the district and there is a continual influx of new kids.
“The mobility or churn has to cease. If your rooster changes every year, it slows you down on being prepared and ultimately delays you from reaching that championship,” Ward said.
Joseph Fultz, a third-grade teacher at Kemp Pre K-6 in Dayton, has talked to students about the guarantee and has found when they understand the goal, they try harder.
“It wasn’t that kids were falling though the cracks, but there was nothing holding teachers and schools accountable. That has changed,” Fultz said. “With the guarantee, everyone is more focused on what kids need to be successful.”
Huber Heights parent Samantha Block believes in the principle behind the guarantee, but she thinks Ohio rushed into implementation without thinking it through and funding it.
“This is one individual test deciding the future of all third graders,” she said. “Reading at grade level is important. We need to tutor the kids who are not, but if we don’t give the schools the resources they need to help these kids, what are we helping?”
A concern for Block is what happens next year when schools have an influx of new third graders and, the ones who were retained.
Block said the focus on math and reading the first three years of a child’s education leaves little opportunity for other subjects. She fears children who don’t excel in reading will get frustrated.
“We’re teaching them that they are not good enough already,” Block said.
|School District||2012-13 Percentage of 3rd graders at or above proficient, reading|
|Mechanicsburg Exempted Village||95.5|
|West Liberty-Salem Local||90.3|
|Xenia Community City||76.0|
|Yellow Springs Exempted Village||89.1|
|Cedar Cliff Local||89.5|
|Bradford Exempted Village||88.6|
|Covington Exempted Village||81.8|
|Milton-Union Exempted Village||89.5|
|Tipp City Exempted Village||90.9|
|Miami East Local||88.8|
|West Carrollton City||82.3|
|Jefferson Township Local||60.9|
|Mad River Local||78.3|
|New Lebanon Local||80.2|
|Valley View Local||90.6|
|Huber Heights City||83.6|
|Springboro Community City||96.4|
|Little Miami Local||93.1|
Learn more about helping students learn to read
- Helping children read well is the goal of a free volunteer training session offered to friends of Dayton Public Schools. The session will be held on Sept. 21 or Oct. 19, from 9 a.m. to noon at the YWCA, 141 West Third Street
- Thursday, Sept. 26 - Primary Literacy Program, 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Wesley Community Center, 3730 Delphos Avenue in Dayton. Information will be shared on how Dayton Public Schools has identified and is working to help students in grades K-3 learn to read. Both events also will provide information to parents on the requirements to graduate from high school.
- Thursday, October 17 - Primary Literacy Program, 5 p.m. -7 p.m. with East End Community Center at Ruskin School, 407 Ambrose Court, Dayton. Both literacy programs also will provide information to parents on the requirements to graduate from high school.