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Ohio Governor John Kasich

In 2012, the state of Ohio was facing a statewide crisis: up to 60 percent of fourth grade children in Cincinnati and other school districts were failing. Governor John Kasich called on lawmakers like Republican 6th District State Senator Peggy Lehner to create a bill stating that third graders who could not pass the state’s reading test would be held back from continuing on to the fourth grade.

Once passed, Senate Bill 316 became more commonly known as the “Third Grade Reading Guarantee.” The following year, 2013, the Ohio Senate passed a few modifications to the law, further defining the terms under which a student could be held back.

Three years after the adoption of the law, in 2015, Ohio saw improvements in students’ reading performance—91.5 percent of third graders in Columbus passed Ohio’s proficiency testing, compared to only 63.9 percent in 2014.

Reading retention laws, can appear to be punishing a student if they don’t meet the state requirements. In actuality, most states put those laws in place to ensure that teachers get the training they need to help students be successful. That is truly where states need to focus: professional development in literacy for teachers K-3.

—Janice Kohler, IMSE Director of Professional Development

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Janice Kohler, IMSE Director of Professional Development

IMSE’s Director of Professional Development, Janice Kohler tells the Journal, “IMSE stays up to date on all state law requirements especially in regards to the Third Grade Reading Retention Laws. We have been on Ohio’s Third Grade Reading Guarantee list of approved providers since 2012 and would like to think that IMSE has contributed to the increase of student reading performance due to the large amount of Ohio schools who have taken our training and practicum.”

For more about Ohio’s progress with the Third Grade Reading Guarantee, check out: https://tinyurl.com/jynxkm2

Researchers have long known that third grade is a make or break time in a student’s development of reading skills. A 2011 report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that students who weren’t reading well in third grade were four times as likely to drop out of high school. Family economics only add to the problem, as students living in poverty are three times more likely to drop out of school or fail to graduate on time versus their more affluent peers.

Quality teacher training is a vital tool to help all students succeed in reading. “The professional development provided must be applicable to teachers in the classroom. IMSE’s mission has always been to empower teachers to teach all students how to read through an explicit, structured, multi-sensory approach. It has been IMSE’s philosophy over the past 20 years, that all teachers should be teaching children to read this way, but in order to do so, teachers must have a firm understanding of the structure of our language, the foundation of our language, and most importantly, how to apply this in a classroom of 20-30 students,” Kohler tells the Journal.

Today, across the US, 30 states currently have laws on the books like Ohio’s third grade guarantee. In the fall of 2016, Michigan passed a retention bill. Like many states, the bill comes with exemptions, including a student’s ability to advance if they demonstrate proficiency in other subjects like math and if they also continue to receive remedial reading instruction. The law in Michigan is currently set to go into effect during the 2019-2020 school year.

Eight states with reading laws on the books allow for retention but do not require it, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. States like New Mexico currently send ‘retention letters’ to the parents of students who fail to achieve proficiency. If parents elect to have their child advance to fourth grade, they must sign a waiver. But later this year, lawmakers in the state are set to propose a bill strengthening the rules for retention.

IMSE prides itself in being able to maintain the fidelity of our program while structuring it around the needs of a district to meet individual state requirements.  We are dedicated to bringing literacy to all of our children across the United States and beyond.

While states like Ohio have seen gains in reading proficiency scores, the retention laws are not always popular among teachers and parents. In August 2016, parents from seven counties in Florida filed suit against the state seeking emergency action to prevent their children from being retained and argued that the state’s law didn’t require a passing grade on reading proficiency exams. The case is currently with the state’s District Court of Appeals and judges have indicated that they’ll side with Florida, keeping the law on the books.

But Kohler tells the Journal, “Reading retention laws, can appear to be punishing a student if they don’t meet the state requirements. In actuality, most states put those laws in place to ensure that teachers get the training they need to help students be successful. That is truly where states need to focus: professional development in literacy for teachers K-3.”

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New Mexico Education Secretary, Hanna Skandera

Interestingly enough, Florida was one of the first states to institute a reading law, passing it in 2002. Hanna Skandera, formerly the state’s deputy of education under then-Governor Jeb Bush, initiated the bill and has long been an advocate for retention coupled with resources devoted to reading proficiency. A 2012 study conducted by the Education Commission of the States found that since its institution in Florida, the law has steadily helped students improve in reading and that students who were held back in third grade performed better by the time they reached fourth grade.

Skandera has since moved to New Mexico and there, as the state’s education secretary, has repeatedly called for strengthening the state’s ability to retain failing students. Unlike Florida, though, legislators in New Mexico have been unable to pass a more stringent law that Skandera has called for.

For more on the challenge to Florida’s third grade retention law, check out: https://tinyurl.com/jcbxmbc

At the same time, organizations like the Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA) have called for retention to be a last resort and pushed for states to provide strong phonics and multi-sensory instruction. LDA also suggests that parents are notified as soon as it’s clear students are not demonstrating proficiency and calls for schools to provide families with help in making literacy a priority at home.

To learn more about LDA’s stance on best practices with reading retention, check out: https://tinyurl.com/zp2wt58

Funding for teacher remediation training, early identification of reading difficulties like dyslexia and multi-sensory education across grade levels in general education classrooms is key. In September 2016, Education Trust-Midwest, a Michigan-based non-partisan education policy think tank stated that top performing states also provide adequate funding to bolster third grade reading laws. Florida, for instance, spends $130 million annually on reading instruction across grades K-12.

“IMSE prides itself in being able to maintain the fidelity of the program while structuring it around the needs of a district to meet individual state requirements.  We are dedicated to bringing literacy to all of our children across the United States and beyond,” Kohler tells the Journal.

It remains to be seen if states with recently enacted laws, like Michigan, have allocated enough funding to bolster its third grade reading law. The state plans to spend $26 million during the 2016-2017 school year, with an additional funding available for at-risk students.

For a state-by-state list of the laws as of June 2016, check out: http://ecs.force.com/mbdata/mbquestRT?rep=KQ313