Lorain Superintendent Tom Tucker knows he will have some tough news to deliver to the parents of young students struggling to learn to read.
“The pressure is on this year,” Tucker said Wednesday. “I will have to let them know exactly what the state has put in place and tell them what we have to improve this year or their kids could face retention next year.”
The new mandate, largely seen by education leaders across the state as an unfunded one, requires that all Ohio students be reading at grade level by third grade. Those who don’t meet the mark could be forced to repeat the grade and/or receive extensive reading intervention.
The edict has placed educators in a precarious position of defending why such a stipulation could be hard for some districts to implement while also not disputing that all students need to know how to read.
“I understand why they want this. Reading is the gatekeeper to success,” Tucker said. “It isn’t as simple as passing a law that says that every child will read by this grade, and that will happen.”
The superintendents of Lorain County’s 14 school districts wrote a letter to state Sen. Gayle Manning, R-North Ridgeville, outlining 10 concerns the superintendents have with the new law, known as “the Third Grade Guarantee.”
“The superintendents of Lorain County support the need to assure that our third-graders are on track in reading,” the letter said. “Through focus and strong support for expanding access to quality Pre-K programs, early identification and intervention initiatives, strong leadership, professional development for teachers and increased parental involvement, Ohio can reach its third grade literacy goals without the threat or substantial costs associated with grade retention.”
The letter was dated Sunday — a little more than two weeks before the Sept. 30 deadline by which districts should have screened all younger elementary students for reading deficiencies. After the screenings, districts have 60 days to come up with individualized plans to help students who are lagging.
The superintendents’ concerns are not simply about being forced to make children repeat grades.
They also have expressed dismay about the lack of involvement school leaders and teachers have had with crafting of the law, how the state will establish the cutoff scores, the consequences of letting parents seek waivers through the IEP or 504 processes — typically avenues used for special-needs students — and scheduling scenarios districts could face if a students is forced to repeat third-grade reading while placing them at their respective level in other subject areas.
“The overall purpose is good, but I don’t think they have thought out the consequences. And the consequences are the cost to implement the various programs and the idea of retaining students,” said Sheffield-Sheffield Lake Superintendent Will Folger. “We are thinking we will not be greatly impacted based on prior numbers, based on last year’s test, but it will have some effect on our district.”
Folger said he doesn’t know what Manning will do with the letter, but the superintendents wanted to jointly voice their concerns. His district already has many of the intervention programs, a kindergarten readiness program, full-time kindergarten and in-school reading specialists in place, but other districts could be greatly impacted if they are forced to expand without the funding to do so.
In Lorain, the mandate could have wide-ranging ramifications because the last report card released by the state shows roughly 41 percent of its third-graders fell under the threshold for reading proficiency. It is the highest level of reading deficiency in the county.
While Tucker said the state has yet to say what the cut-off mark will be to determine who should be held back, he understands a great number of his students are struggling.
“This mandate comes with so many unknowns,” he said. “The assumption out there is that our teachers are not teaching reading, and that is not the case. There is no one out in this district that will say they don’t think students should learn to read. The biggest thing for us is how we are going to have to spend out funds to do this and that you are retaining these kids where research shows retention does not work.
“The key is getting the right interventions to the right student and getting them to read,” Tucker added.
Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or firstname.lastname@example.org.