Schools work to meet reading guarantee

Third-grade skills seen as key to future success in school and work.

A new law that requires some students to repeat the third grade if they are not reading on target will force local schools to communicate more with parents.

“As we learn more about it, we certainly will communicate it to parents,” said Springfield City School District Superintendent David Estrop. “In fact, under the law, we’re required to.”

About 21 percent, or 450, of Clark and Champaign county third-grade students do not test proficient or higher on the third-grade reading test. Under a new law known as the Third Grade Guarantee, some students who do not meet a score established by the state board of education will not move on to the fourth grade. The guarantee goes into effect in the 2013-14 school year, but local schools say they will start preparing parents this year.

Reading by third grade has been identified by researchers as a crucial benchmark. Students who are not reading on grade level by third grade are four times less likely to graduate from high school, according to a 2011 study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Research shows that students who drop out of high school are more likely to be unemployed, commit crimes and earn lower incomes.

“We’re going to work very hard with our students and families to provide as much support and help them be as successful as they can be,” said Estrop. “I think you’re going to see a lot of efforts in those very, very early primary grades to make sure the children are on the right path to being able to pass that third-grade reading test.”

Students with disabilities, who are learning the English language or who have had intense intervention are exempt under the law signed by Gov. John Kasich this summer.

“If you can establish that good basis in (kindergarten through second grade) with the reading skills where kids are just fluent readers, that would carry all the way through and help students as they progress up through the grades,” said Shawn Blazer, assistant superintendent for Northeastern Local Schools.

The guarantee raises the stakes for families who face retention if their student does not pass the test, local educators say.

Elizabeth McKamy said her 8-year-old daughter, Sylvia, a third-grade student at Graham Elementary, struggles with reading and that retention might be helpful.

“My daughter has a reading problem, and if she doesn’t get up to speed, then it’s just going to be hard all the way through,” she said.

At Northeastern Local Schools, a new reading program called Super Kids will be implemented in kindergarten through second grade that will be helpful to students to develop reading skills to pass the test, said Blazer. The program was piloted this year in all kindergarten and some first and second-grade classes.

“It’ll take a lot of education to explain to parents because at the elementary levels, we don’t retain many students,” said Blazer. “We work on providing intervention and involving parents in that process. It’ll be a big shift to us to explain to parents.”

There will be some adjustment for teachers as well, officials said. The new law requires students who are behind in reading to be assigned to a third-grade teacher who has shown they know how to teach students to read through a reading endorsement or passing a reading instruction exam.

The Clark County Educational Service Center plans to use part of a $400,000 grant to pay for instructors and materials for courses that would help more teachers earn that endorsement, said ESC Superintendent Stacia Smith.

“When we talk about the Third Grade Reading Guarantee, we’ve got to make sure we know where kids are and how to help them learn to read,” she said.

The grant will be used to offer training to 400 teachers in several counties, including Clark and Champaign counties.