Saturday, January 5, 2013

Retaining Non-Readers

This is a must watch video from PBS News Hour.  Ohio has adopted a new policy in which any child not reading at a third grade level by the end of third grade must be retained.  All students, no exceptions.  They call it the Reading Guarantee.  Please take a moment to view the video.  The reporter does a good job explaining how the program works, as well as the pros and cons it brings.

I have mixed feelings on this program.  Some thoughts I had. . .

  • You simply can't guarantee 100% of all students will be on grade level.  There are so many outside factors beyond a school's control.  Now, I have to assume that there must be a gray area to their 100% guarantee when it comes to learning disabilities or special education students.  So, those situations aside, there are other outside factors that play a large role in student achievement.  As mentioned in the video, chronic absenteeism is a big one.  You simply can't help a student who isn't there to be helped.  
  • I personally believe parent involvement is key to a student's success.  I often see that many of those students who struggle most come from homes where education is not the priority.  Or, if it is, the parents seem to believe that education is solely a school place issue and there is little to no academic support given at home.  For real success to happen, our students need supervision/support with homework.  They need parents that read to them.  They need to build schema by having experiences that take them beyond their home and a television and video game.  They need to be living literate lives that we can build on in the classroom.
  • I absolutely believe that retention in the earlier grades can work IF effective programs are in place to support the remediation of academic deficiencies.  However, that is a big IF.  I have seen programs in place that, on paper, look like they are on-point.  But, when you look at the actual implementation, they just do not meet the needs.  They are hampered by lack of materials, scheduling conflicts, organization issues, funding, etc.  I think there are too many districts that get standardized test scores and have a knee-jerk reaction to quickly throw in place a program that will "fix" those students not meeting proficiency standards.  They may look good on paper, but the actual implementation and results often suffer.
I like (love?) that schools are realizing that we simply can't keep promoting students who have not, to some acceptable degree, mastered the important skills of a grade level.  There does have to be a line in the sand, some point at which we say you are simply not prepared to be successful in the next grade.  Let's fix this.  

My wish is that we become more proactive in our approach to education rather than reactive.  Let's take the time to look at our literacy programs in their totality.  What is our basic instructional program?  How are we addressing all the areas of literacy at each grade level?  Do we have the materials needed?  Are we providing out teachers with support and on-going professional development?  Are we making data driven AND common sense based decisions in what we do?  How are we monitoring our students' progress?  How are we making sure we catch those who are falling behind before they get too far behind?  What interventions do we have in place?  How do we know they are effective?  What type of parent involvement do we want to see?  How are we education our parents on how they can best support their children's academic success?

Simple questions?  No, they aren't simple questions to answer.  They require some serious conversation and a true commitment to making our literacy programs effective.  But, until we have these conversations and address these issues, I'm not sure programs like Ohio's Reading Guarantee will work.

What are your thoughts?


  1. Indiana is in its second year of basically the same program. There are exceptions in ours for ESL and special education students. We also have special remediation after the test (which takes place in March) and then in e summer for 3 weeks for students who didn't pass. They then can retake the test.

    Overall, I don't like the pressure it puts on kids to perform on that one day, but I do agree that it's putting a real emphasis on making SURE our reading skills are up to par in the early years. I think it's great on the large scale, but when it comes to individual students, I think kids can fall through the cracks. Retention is very very rarely shown to have a positive outcome, so I think it's a tricky spot to put kids in without looking at each kid on their own.

  2. NC is going to adopt this program starting next school year. As a fourth grade teacher, I'm interested to see where this goes. I currently have 9 students who at midyear are not even really reading at a THIRD grade level, let alone a mid-year fourth grade level. And I believe that their lack of reading skills are holding them back from so much in all other areas.
    In regards to exceptions, I know EC is exempt and I believe many ESL students are exempt as well. However, a third of my nine students that are below grade level are neither EC nor ESL.
    At our school we use Fountas & Pinnell's new Leveled Literacy Instruction kits. They currently are available for levels A-Q. (Fourth grade reading at the beginning of the year). This kit has helped me as an educator immensely. It helps me to realize what skills I need to be focusing on with students who are not getting this intervention and as a first year teacher, this is a great benefit. The kit comes with lessons pre-written and the books are included. So no more running to the library on Friday afternoon or Monday morning for guided reading books.
    I agree with luckeyfrog that retention hasn't been shown to work. I think that summer school is a better option and that parents DO need to be more involved. Some of my kiddos rarely see parents due to work schedules and lack of interest. It's very disheartening.
    Anddd I just wrote almost as long of a comment as you did a blog post! (I'm very passionate about reading!)

  3. We will be starting this program next school year as well. It's very frustrating to know that no matter how hard we as teachers work, there will always be people who want us to work harder. I personally teach ELD students who are learning English. Every student is below grade level. That doesn't mean that they aren't learning though. I am afraid to see how it is going to affect my students. I teach 2nd grade so my group of students are the first ones who it is going to affect. They are also the first group of 1/2 day kinders (thank goodness full day kinder is coming back next year). Our school and district are already sending letters out to parents explaining this new program. I feel like it's more of a way to scare parents, teachers, and students into learning. We haven't really been told anything, so being able to see that video was very helpful.

    Darling Little Learners

  4. Oklahoma has also adopted this policy. I believe next year's 3rd graders will be the first class to be effected by it. In our district, we are on a continuous learning calendar (almost year around, but not quite). During each break, we have intersession to work with children who are behind. This year the 3rd graders who are behind in reading are getting only reading instruction during the intersession and it must be taught by a teacher with a Master's degree in reading or has had Literacy First or Reading First training. I teach first grade and I retained 4 students last year because of their reading skills. So far they are all doing much better than they did last year (2 of them were very young). I know retention isn't always successful, but so far these children are showing more confidence and are taking chances they didn't take last year.

    I'm sure I've been told, but I can't remember if ESL and lab students are judged the same.

    Kelly @ I'm Not Your Grandpa, I'm Your Teacher

  5. I also teach in Ohio. We have been told in our district that along with the "Third Grade Guarantee" comes the fact that we will be held accountable for the amount of "growth" that is made by our students. I totally agree with being held accountable. But I work in a school where students have very very little support from home. And many students are absent A LOT! These students have shown almost no growth because they have been to school very little. How does the state deal with this problem? It is scary to be held accountable for a student that I can't teach because they are not present!


    1. Wow! I have to say that I am stunned to read from just the comments above that North Carolina, Indiana, and Oklahoma have the same or similar programs. This is more widespread that I knew. That worries me a bit for the reasons mentioned in the post.

      I am particularly bothered by the fact that, as noted in Em's comment, teachers alone are being held accountable for the "growth" students make. Of course we are accountable for the growth. It's our job! However, being in the classroom as a basic skills teacher, I see how many factors hinder what I can do and they are factors that are completely out of my control. It hardly seems fair to hold me accountable for something that is tremendously effected by factors I have no control over. In particular, I have major issues with my schedule. I simply don't see them as much as I know I need to. It greatly impacts how I work with my students, and I would change it in a heartbeat. However, I don't have the power to change my schedule. That's an admin. decision. So many factors are involved in a student's success besides how the teacher is teaching.

  6. I teach in Ohio as well, 2nd grade. My students this year will be the first kids that the guarantee will "count" for. It is very high stakes for these little people, and many of them don't even really realize it. My district has taken a pretty conservative approach to how we are identifying students at "at risk", these students are all on individualized reading plans and we are to give progress checks to parents at several points throughout the year. Almost half of my class is on a reading plan (9/21) and I have 10 kids total that receive some type of intervention for reading. I agree that something needs to be done, but it's a shame that legislators and those not in the classroom make laws that really hinder what and how students are learning.