3 in 5 Columbus, Ohio 3rd Graders Risk Being Held Back Over Reading Test

As the New Year looms large, parents, educators and officials in Columbus, Ohio are concerned about 3rd grade kids not being able to pass the state's mandated reading test. Come May 2014, if they don't pass the test as they will be forced to repeat the grade year except a few who will be exempted because of special needs or as a result of learning English as their second language.

In October nearly 3 of 5 Columbus City Schools' kids who took the state's 3rd grade reading exam failed. Based on past performance, this was anticipated by the district as well as other large urban districts in Ohio. However, in what is known as Ohio's third-grade reading guarantee, this will be the first year that the kids actually will be held back as a result of their failure.

Almost the entire third grade for some of Columbus' elementary schools face repeating the grade if nothing improves. 88% of students at Trevitt Elementary did not pass whereas 85% didn't pass at Arlington Park. More than half of students failed at 56 of the district's 75 schools.

"We have a crisis on our hands," Interim Superintendent Dan Good said, adding that the district is "sounding the alarm communitywide."

Recently, employees of Columbus schools were asked by Good to pitch ideas to help kids improve in reading. Some of those ideas are being put into action in emergency meetings that have become the norm in recent weeks. And according to Good, it's already helping. Vocabulary seems to be the root of the 3rd graders problems as the district found out. A new initiative dubbed "read and ride" involves school bus drivers keeping boxes of books on board. Making vocabulary walls and labeling cafeterias with words is a plan by food service workers. As the district officials put it, reading will be visible everywhere.

The district is trying to increase uninterrupted reading time, and to teach parents what skills their kids need and how to help them, the district is designing "parent academies".

"It's a lot of work. And we're working," said Maria Malik, the principal of Leawood Elementary on the city's Far East Side. At Leawood, 74 percent of kids didn't pass the October test.

According to Jennifer Smith Richards of The Columbus Dispatch, the district says it is doing everything it can to help children read on grade level. A reading-mentor initiative called Reading Buddies is a major component of the district's efforts. During lunch breaks, volunteers, mostly from businesses, visit the schools to read with a child and help teachers track their struggles and achievements. Despite having 360 volunteers for Reading Buddies, the district says it needs more.

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