The Columbus Dispatch has reported that a state law which mandates a minimum reading level for third graders before they can go onto fourth grade could keep as many as 40% of Ohio students from advancing with their peers. Districts are already notifying parents whose kids are in danger of being held back that their reading skills need attention if they are to continue progressing in school.
Several Ohio districts are particularly affected. Some, like South-Western Schools and Grahanna, report that nearly 40% of their third graders are currently behind the state-mandated standard. In Hillard and Westerville schools, the picture is not quite as dire, with only 20% of third-graders currently at risk of being held back.
Not all districts are struggling, however. According to the Dispatch, only a total of 10 students attending schools at Grandview Heights and Hamilton are behind the curve, while only 5% of Olen Tangy students fall short.
Under the law, districts had to assess students' reading skills in kindergarten through third grade by Sept. 30. They also must notify families if their child is "not on track" to read at grade level by the end of the school year. The law calls for schools to hold back third-graders who score below 392 out of 500 on the state reading test starting in the 2013-14 school year, with exceptions for students with special needs or those with limited-English skills.
This year is considered the law's "trial run." This means district officials have three options available to deal with third graders who fail to make the grade in reading. They can either be promoted to fourth grade, assuming the students' reading teacher signs off on the transfer; they can be promoted on the condition that they will continue to take advantage of side tutoring provided by the school to catch up with their classmates; or the student can repeat third grade.
An analysis based on last year's reading scores by the Department of Education found that as many as 10,000 third-graders could be held back. School officials say the number of struggling readers isn't a surprise; most districts have been assessing students at the start of the school year and getting them help based on their needs. But there is a greater urgency now to get students on track because of the new law.
Jamie Lusher, the language-arts coordinated for Worthington schools, says that the goal is to have all third graders at grade-level in reading by the time the school year concludes in June. Lusher added that being put in a position to retain even one student would be considered a failure. To prevent that from happening, district administrators and faculty are setting up an intensive training program for third graders who are falling behind their peers to get them ready to take on fourth grade work next fall.