Third Grade Reading Law Creates 'Wait-and-See' Situation for Schools

By
Arian Smedley - Athens Messenger staff reporter

Dateline
Updated Sat, Jan 18, 2014 7:51 am

With the introduction of the Third Grade Reading Guarantee, a state law that may result in many third-graders being held back if they’re not reading up to par, school officials around the county are focusing efforts on their struggling readers.

At Alexander Elementary School, 27 third-graders failed to hit the cut-off score (392) for the reading portion of the Ohio Achievement Assessment exam, which was administered in the fall.

That number excludes students who are exempted from the new law, like those with learning disabilities.

While those students represent 27 percent of the school’s third-graders, it’s important to keep in mind the fall OAA is the first shot at an end-of-year exam, school officials have said.

Students will have at least two more shots at improving their grade, according to the Ohio Department of Education.

The OAAs are administered a second time in the spring. ODE officials have also said they will offer another exam for students who receive summertime instruction.

Details on that exam, however, have yet to be released.

In addition, ODE officials have also said teachers can administer an alternative assessment. Information on those assessments, however, are not yet available from the state either.

 

Compared to last year, Alexander saw a few more students struggling with their reading, according to Cheryl Nostrant, the elementary consultant.

That said, this year’s reading scores are slightly higher than the state average — 57 percent of third-graders statewide attained a score of 400; at Alexander, it was 58 percent.

Once struggling students have been identified, as dictated by the legislation, teachers then implement various measures to help improve the students’ reading.

The practice is nothing new for teachers at Alexander.

“We were already administering assessments throughout (kindergarten through grade 3),” Nostrant said. “It’s the way we do business.

We weren’t surprised by anything that we found out about the kids. We already had those children in intervention, previously. The state is mandating what we already did.”

But with the new focus on the cut-off score, teachers do now have to provide intervention to students who might not have otherwise been considered a struggling reader, said Principal Nedra Zirkle.

“There’s a big difference between the score of the child and knowing what that child can do,” Zirkle said. “But we comply with the law.”

The most difficult piece to the law for all schools has yet to come.

What happens when many of these students are retained?

What will that do to the number of teachers?

What will that do to class sizes?

How will that impact children who later can progress to the fourth grade mid-year?

“We don’t have a plan yet,” Zirkle said. “You can’t have a plan,” adding the results of the spring OAAs aren’t available until the summer. “You can never make good decisions unless you have all the information. It’s a wait-and-see situation. We have to look at all of the options out there and pick the best one.”

In the meantime, Nostrant said the school is being as “proactive and positive as possible, particularly by letting parents know what they can do to help.”

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