The Edmond Sun

January 24, 2014

Parents, third-graders face impacts of reading law

Patty Miller
The Edmond Sun

EDMOND — Standardized reading testing has been given in Edmond Public Schools every year since the 2005-06 school term, but now new legislation states third-grade students not on reading level at the end of the year will be retained in that grade.

“This test is the standardized reading test we give every year in April,” said Penny Gooch, Edmond coordinator of educational services and elementary testing.

The law written by Sen. Clark Jolley aims to end the practice known as “social promotion,” keeping students with their peer groups whether they are reading at grade level or not. Jolley, R-Edmond, and other lawmakers have argued that if students cannot read at grade level then they cannot excel academically or in other areas.

The Edmond Public School District has 1,655 third-graders, and it received a $125,154 allocation based on fall student population to help pay for additional literacy educators and programs. Edmond officials said the money allocated is not nearly enough to fully implement the law.

Even though the test is given in April the third grade scores normally are not available until after Labor Day, Edmond’s Associate Superintendent of Educational Services Tara Fair said. “I had to put off my presentation (for 2013) to the School Board until Nov. 1 because all I had were preliminary scores for some of the data.”  

Fair said the State Department of Education, which is in charge of grading the tests, has promised the state’s school districts they will have the reading scores out much earlier this year, which is the first academic year where the social promotion law takes full effect.

“Parents won’t know their child will be retained until we receive the scores,” Fair said. “The law is made and it will be strictly enforced. If the students don’t pass the test or don’t qualify for one of the six exemptions, they will be retained in third grade.”

Fair added the Edmond students and their reading levels are monitored closely and parents already will have been in discussions concerning their child’s reading ability and whether it is on level or not.

The State of Department of Education has a plan including asking the school districts to give the reading tests earlier in the testing period.

“Testing begins April 10 and we are asking schools to get all of their third-grade reading tests done by April 23,” said Tricia Pemberton, assistant communications director with the State Department of Education. “The vendor has told us we will be able to get the scores by May 9 for tests completed by April 23.”

There will be exemptions available for students who score “unsatisfactory” on the test, Pemberton said.

Pemberton added schools already should have put students struggling with reading on an academic monitoring plan.

“Teachers should have been keeping a portfolio for struggling readers, and if the portfolio shows the student can read with at least a limited knowledge level they pass,” Pemberton said. “Limited knowledge shows a second grade reading level but we are also passing them with the hope that they will keep improving.”

Pemberton added schools should have summer reading academies for the students in danger of being retained.

“They can then take the alternative reading test, pass and still be promoted,” Pemberton said. “Students can be promoted mid-year. If they take the reading test by the end of November and pass they can be promoted mid-year.

“Last year about 12 percent of third graders (statewide) would have been retained. So most districts are dealing with a limited number of students.”

Pemberton added the State Department of Education has been placing literacy coaches in districts to help classroom teachers with students who are falling behind.

“If students are struggling in the first grade with reading and are not caught up,” Pemberton said, “their chances of promotion or even graduation go down and the drop out numbers go up.”

There are four grade ratings. In addition to an unsatisfactory rating the other scores are “Limited Knowledge,” “Proficient” and “Advanced” ratings.

“All of our students making less than proficient are put in a system of targeted intervention and support so that we can boost their student academic achievement,” Fair said of Edmond’s policy. “We already have students identified and are working with those students. We do this on a case by case system, which depends on the individual student and what his or her needs are.”

RTI, or Response to Intervention, was implemented in the past and is still ongoing, Gooch said. “Testing in April is the first data from the State Board of Education, but basically all of our students are universally screened in the fall and once we get data back we start working with our students.”

Edmond Public Schools uses a pyramid of three-tiered support to get students who are not on grade level where they need to be.

Tier 1 is teachers begin by helping students in the classroom with interventions helping pinpoint specific needs of individual students.

Tier 2 includes support that actually doubles the time of reading in which they are deficient.  

Tier 3 addresses what is not working and adjusts the educational plan to help the student to read on level.

“Our goal for every student is for them to achieve the Advanced or Proficient level of reading every year in all content areas,” Fair said.

Fair added the district is always working with parents in a partnership in skills and things parents can do at home to help their child read on level.

“We have weekly take-home folders with things parents can be working with their children at home,” Fair said. “In the summer through our Title funds, we send summer packets home and offer opportunities to be in summer school at no cost to parents.”

The district is required by the Reading Sufficiency Act to inform parents as to how their children performed on the fall testing, Fair said.



MORE LEGISLATION COMING

Some legislators are questioning the implementation of the law. Rep. Mike Shelton, D-Oklahoma City, filed HB 2565 for this session seeking to reset the clock on the act until proper funding is in place for its initiatives. The legislative session begins Feb. 4 and it is not known yet whether this bill will be assigned to a committee for a hearing.

“Oklahoma students must be reading at grade level, there’s no doubt about that,” Shelton said, “and the Reading Sufficiency Act has the best of intentions behind it. However, the state has failed to fund this initiative and hundreds of Oklahoma third graders will be held back this year because the Legislature has failed to do its job. My legislation simply resets the clock on the Reading Sufficiency Act to give schools and students more time to prepare before this law takes effect.”

Shelton said teachers are not to blame.

“They are stretched thin across the state,” Shelton said. “It is imperative that we make the necessary resources available to teachers and schools so our children can be successful. Let’s take the time to fix the Legislature’s shortcoming with this bill, pass HB 2565, and reset the clock on the Reading Sufficiency Act.”

Although, Sen. Jolley disagrees with the purpose behind Shelton’s bill.

“Rep. Shelton’s bill to require ‘proper funding’ is a simple way to try to derail the reform since there likely will never be an agreement that anything in public education is ‘properly funded’,” Jolley said. “Rep. Shelton’s efforts should be viewed as what they are: An attempt to not implement this reform.”

Edmond’s Executive Director of Elementary Education Ruthie Riggs said, “We know that a student’s success in life is greatly affected by their ability to read, and we want to make sure we have done everything possible to build those foundational reading skills.”

The new law addressing Reading Sufficiency states whether a student will be retained or not depends on if they get an unsatisfactory on the reading test.

Even though the law was established in 2010-11 retention went into effect this year for students who made an “Unsatisfactory” on the test, Fair said.

“The law required us to have a plan, but we had a plan before that,” Fair said, “and exemptions were made to be part of the law.”

 The exemptions are a part of the statute and were crafted from the beginning to make sure that students who should not be expected to be subject to the social promotion law will be exempted from those expectations, Jolley said.

Jolley said Exemption 6 is possibly being modified to require the two years of intensive remediation but no longer require the previous retention element. The exemption states that even if a student was previously retained in a prior grade and they still are not at grade reading level, they could be retained again after third grade.

“I have a bill to make that change,” said Jolley, who announced this week that he plans to run for the 5th District congressional seat.