Turning the page

Reading results could have major impact on third graders

Emily Culberson | Staff Writer

More third graders than ever before could be held back next year.

Due to recent legislation that alters current reading level standards for the 2013-14 school year, third grade students who don’t meet the new requirements could be retained in the third grade.

According to John Charlton, the Associate Director of Communications for the Ohio Department of Education (ODE), the legislation ensures that students are on a positive track to success.

“This legislation [will] give a greater emphasis to reading instruction and intervention in the early grades and the goal is to [ensure] all children have the reading skills they need to be successful in school and in life,” Charlton said.

The “Third Grade Guarantee” is the new reading level guidelines outlined in Senate Bill 316. It states that students in the third grade must achieve a cut score of 390 or higher on a specific state approved test, such as the Ohio Achievement Test (OAA), or the child may have to repeat the third grade.

Charlton said that students who cannot read to grade level will have a lot of trouble later in schooling.

“[How well you read] is going to affect how you do in social studies in ninth grade, how you do in history in twelfth grade, how you do in science in seventh grade,” Charlton said. “All of those things are affected by how well you read and that is why we need to make sure every student is on grade level.”

Students who do not meet the required cut off score will be given a Reading Improvement Plan.

According to the ODE’s “Third Grade Reading Guarantee Checklist,” the improvement plans identify the student’s specific problem, involve parents, monitors student’s progress, and includes a statement that a student could potentially be retained in the third grade.

With this legislation comes exceptions. Students who are Limited English Proficient, have a disability, or have recommendation by a teacher to still advance to the second grade may not be held back. But according to the law, it is still possible for a student to be retained due to reading incompetency.

But Charlton said that the legislation isn’t focused on holding students back.

“It’s not about retention, but it’s about intervention,” Charlton said. “The idea is to identify students [who] may need extra help.”

Elementary Language Arts Curriculum Leader Shannon Homoelle said that the “Third Grade Guarantee” has only brought a few minor changes to the current reading standards.

“We were very much in line with the legislation [before], but have had to spend time changing paperwork [and] adjusting assessments to comply with the specifics in the state legislation,” Homoelle said.

Fourth grade teacher Laura Franz believes the new implementations will be beneficial in ensuring that fourth graders are performing at the level they should be.

“The reading expectation from third to fourth [grade] is a big jump,” Franz said. “[In the fourth grade] we start moving away from basic comprehension [and] the [new] expectation [is that fourth graders] are able to answer higher level thinking questions while they read.”

Mason School Board President Kevin Wise sees the benefits and potential of the “Third Grade Guarantee,” but doesn’t feel it is a necessary addition in Mason.

“Frankly I don’t believe our students [should be] required to follow [this particular state legislation],” Wise said. “We are already prepared to monitor the progress and take appropriate action for students that are falling behind in reading [and the new legislation] doesn’t provide any value for kids [in Mason].”

Homoelle similarly said that Mason has already put much effort in to creating programs for children with reading difficulties.

“Mason has had procedures in place to identify struggling readers for years now, and has done a great deal of work implementing these procedures,” Homoelle said. “[We have] always made it a priority to educate all students, whether they are struggling readers or avid readers.”

Mother of a current third grader, Lisa Zeuch, sees why legislation such as the “Third Grade Guarantee” is vital.

“I hate that the government has to get involved in our kids’ education but what I have seen [is that] somebody needs to,” Zeuch said. “My third grader reads just fine but that’s because we work with her and there are kids out there who don’t have that and they need the extra help.”

Despite the novelty of the legislation, Charlton believes that the addition will be beneficial in ensuring all young children can read up to grade level.

“These students deserve the very best,” Charlton said. “I think most teachers do a great job of educating their students and are willing to go [the] extra mile to help a student. But it’s more than just the teachers. It’s the parents, the additional resources that can be brought in…everything goes in to making sure these students are successful.”