Thousands of Ohio third-graders could be held back


Almost every local school district has at least 15 percent of its third-grade students at-risk for being held back a year based on fall results of the state reading tests and the new third-grade reading guarantee.

This is the first year that Ohio third-graders must achieve a certain score on the Ohio Achievement Assessmentto advance to fourth grade. The required reading score is 392, which is just below the score of 400 that indicates proficiency under existing state standards.

Roughly one-third of 130,000 third-graders statewide could be called at-risk of repeating the grade because they didn’t achieve that score this fall. If even 10 percent of Miami Valley third-graders were held back, that could affect more than 1,000 local families.

“Keep in mind, the fall test is taken in the first week of October, but it is intended to measure end-of-third-grade content and skills,” said Amy Dobson, director of elementary education for Miamisburg Schools. “All of that is fair game, despite the students only having one month of instruction.”

Ohio Department of Education officials said recent trends show 60 percent of students who score at the Basic level (just below proficient) in the fall, move up to Proficient in the spring tests, which are in late April and early May. There is a third chance to take the test during the summer.

But even if students match that traditional gain, large numbers of students in most districts could be retained in third grade for the 2014-15 school year.

Of Montgomery County’s 16 public school districts, all but Oakwood and New Lebanon had at least 10 percent of their third-graders score as Limited on the fall reading test, the lowest of the state’s five levels.

All students scoring Limited, plus those in the bottom half of the Basic range, would repeat third grade – with the exception of students who are exempt because of severe special needs or very little English language proficiency.

Dayton saw 47 percent of its third-graders score Limited on the fall reading test, Springfield was at 37 percent, Fairborn 30 percent and high-performing districts including Beavercreek, Kettering and others were around 15 percent.

Dayton Public Schools Superintendent Lori Ward said a relatively small number of its low-scoring students would be exempt from retention. If October’s test had been the final shot, about 450 of Dayton’s 962 third-graders would be held back next year.

“Since the announcement of the third-grade reading guarantee law, we have had several community partners adopt schools, volunteer to be tutors, and collaborate with early childhood providers,” Ward said. “We, collectively, must work to ensure we build a community of readers.”

Springfield Superintendent David Estrop said his district adopted the rules of the guarantee last year, knowing it would present significant challenges to a district with high poverty and English language issues. But he said the district succeeded as the result of a concerted effort.

“We moved significant human resources in the form of tutors, and lowering class sizes for kindergarten through third grade, to address the third-grade guarantee,” Estrop said. “Of our 564 third-graders, at the end of the school year, only 87 did not meet the challenge. Then we had a special summer session, open to students who were at-risk and near at-risk of being retained. It lasted six weeks, at all 10 of our elementary schools, and at the end of the summer session, only 18 had to be retained.”

Estrop said Ohio’s reading guarantee law is based on a similar law in Florida, but he challenged Ohio legislators to provide funding for preschool and all-day kindergarten efforts at the level Florida has.

Brian Cayot, President of the Centerville Classroom Teachers’ Association, echoed Estrop’s opinion that building reading skills at an early age is essential to students’ success, but that more resources must be devoted to that process.

“The third grade reading guarantee by itself is not sufficient,” Cayot said. “We need a genuine commitment to adequate school funding, early childhood education, all-day kindergarten, and community support for the children of families who are struggling financially and whose native language is not English.”

Richard Ross, state superintendent of public instruction, said this week that improving scores likely won’t be a fast or easy process. Some local school officials said for better or worse, they’re used to reacting to frequently changing state standards, but wish the pace of change would slow, so they could implement new programs properly and measure their results.

Some districts may have to adjust teaching staff next year because of a smaller-than-expected fourth-grade class, and a ballooning third-grad population. Ward said Dayton schools will follow the new law, but still will balance all classes to meet the needs of students.



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