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November 28, 2012

Heinig: IREAD-3 — will it help or hurt our students?

One exam shouldn’t determine 3rd-grade redo

Right up until the last few days before the election, I expected the biggest issue for Hoosier voters to be the choice of our next U.S. senator. Boy, was I wrong!

State Superintendent Tony Bennett’s definitive loss to Glenda Ritz completely surprised me and a lot of other voters. For me, the surprise was a pleasant one. I have made no secret of my dissatisfaction with Dr. Bennett, and I have written several columns opposing his attempts to change our schools — both public and nonpublic.

Storm clouds are appearing over the capitol, and a long, drawn-out struggle is a distinct possibility.

I have never met Glenda Ritz, but I have read her campaign literature, and I did vote for her. It seems obvious that most Indiana educators and a lot of other Hoosiers did too. However, Gov.-elect Pence and other Republican leaders are already minimizing the significance of her election.

When they insist that Bennett’s changes are absolute, that the State Board of Education can obstruct Ritz, and that they might remove the superintendent’s position from the ballot, a battle looms on the horizon.

I plan to discuss the coming conflict in future columns. Yet, conflict is not inevitable. Charles Layne asked some very good questions in his letter to the Kokomo Tribune Nov. 14. Even its title is one of them. “What’s wrong with being able to read?” cuts right to the heart of the matter.

Before anybody marches into the fray, Mr. Layne’s questions deserve to be answered. “What’s wrong with being able to read?” Absolutely nothing! The importance of literacy is one of the few things that Hoosiers of every political persuasion can agree to.

“Is there a need for more illiteracy?” Of course not! The ability to read was always important, and it became indispensible long ago.

The knowledge and skills that we need to thrive now and in the future keep changing. We must change with them if we want to remain employed. Some employers offer retraining on-site. Others depend on institutions like Ivy Tech to retrain their work force. And the unemployed have the greatest need of all to keep learning.

Unfortunately, many people who teach adults know what to teach but not how to teach it. Much of what adults need to learn they must teach themselves. They can’t teach themselves if they can’t read.

Employers want results, (usually money). Workers who can’t produce those results don’t last long.

“Is it improper to ensure that third-graders demonstrate that they know how to read in order to progress in the public school system?” It depends on how we try to ensure it. I don’t think retaining a third-grader because of a poor test score ensures anything except disaster. To do that to an 8- or 9-year-old child can be devastating, traumatic and downright cruel!

As Margaret Brown stated in her letter to the Kokomo Tribune Nov. 23, the final decision about retaining a child belongs to the parents. I think it should belong to them. Many elementary schools are like small towns where everybody knows everybody else’s business! A child who repeats a grade must often endure the teasing and ridicule of other students. Does that encourage or discourage the child?

Merely repeating the third-grade learning experiences is simply redoing what didn’t work before. Allow the child to go on to fourth grade, but provide intensified remediation using fresh, new (and different!) learning experiences.

Mark Heinig Jr. of Kokomo is a retired Indiana teacher and principal. Contact him at markjr1708@gmail.com.

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