Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

February 20, 2011

Children must pass reading test to leave third grade

Tribune staff writer

Kokomo — Teachers say children learn to read from kindergarten through third grade, then read to learn through the rest of their academic careers.

Indiana’s Legislature recognized the importance of reading skills in this session, passing a law requiring that children who are not reading at third-grade level be retained in third grade, starting with the 2011-2012 school year. Ability to read at that grade level will be determined by a reading test in development by the Indiana Department of Education. Students who fail the test can try again after summer school, and go to fourth grade if they pass.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett said Indiana currently ranks 27th nationwide in fourth-grade reading achievement, and “it is our hope this new reading plan will assist Indiana students in moving toward the head of the pack.”

The new rules include Indiana’s K-6 reading framework, which provides research-based guidance on components of effective reading instruction. Schools with less than a 90 percent passing rate on IREAD-3, the new ISTEP reading exam, must implement the framework and adopt a scientifically based core reading program. Each Indiana elementary school with grades K-3, including charter schools, will also be required to submit an annual reading plan to the department of education, including measurable student achievement goals for each grade level, an assessment plan and intervention for struggling students.

The effort to get every student to pass means more testing more often, and reams of data available on every child’s ability and needs. Schools have put up data walls, with details of every child’s progress to goal. Many Kokomo area schools are using Acuity and DIBELS reading assessments and using the Accelerated Reader program, in which students read at their level and take computerized reading comprehension tests.

Principals and reading teachers say early intervention with struggling readers will be key to having them at third-grade level by the end of third grade.

Linda Thompson, Kokomo-Center Schools’ assistant superintendent, said kindergarten students are assessed at the beginning of school, to determine which children don’t have the early literacy skills they need to become readers. The assessments allow teachers to provide immediate assistance. Those students are tested again at the end of the first semester and the end of the year to determine what growth they have made.

First-, second- and third-graders are tested at the beginning of each year to see who is not reading at grade level, so interventions may begin right away, Thompson said. Those children work in small reading groups, with instruction targeted at their specific needs.

Teachers work in grade-level teams to review data and problem-solve ways to match teaching methods to individual students’ needs.

“Teach students to read on grade level is every Kokomo-Center K-2 teacher’s primary focus from the first day of school in August to the last day in May,” she said.

At Eastern Elementary, early literacy outreach begins before school starts. Principal Randy Maurer said children from birth to age 5 can receive a free book each month from the corporation’s Dolly Parton Imagination Library.

This year’s kindergarten class is the first that was eligible, and Maurer said those students who received the books will be designated on the school data wall, to gather data on the program’s impact.

The data wall shows each child’s current scores on multiple assessments, showing who is excelling and who is struggling in what areas.

“It just gives you a clear picture of where your kids are and where they need help,” Maurer said.

Eastern implemented the Accelerated Reader program this year, and Maurer said Spanish teacher Kathy Simmons plans to start an after-school reading club to provide more time for students to read and take AR tests.

Maurer said Eastern Elementary now has two reading recovery specialists, who can work with eight students at a time. The students are usually the lowest-performing students in their grade level.

Kelly Tuberty, Western Primary School reading specialist, said the testing data “is a big basis that drives what we do,” identifying which kids need what kind of help, and how often they need it.

Wendi Campbell, Western Intermediate reading specialist, said because interventions begin in kindergarten, a possible retention should not come as a surprise to any parent.”

Tuberty said parents are going to have to get involved in teaching children to read, by reading to and with their children, and by encouraging their children to read.

“We absolutely have to have parent help at this point, when learning to read,” she said.

Western Intermediate School Principal Heather Hendrich has “mixed feelings” about the retention part of the program.

“I think high expectations are good. We’re doing everything we feel we can to promote reading. That retention part is huge,” she said.

Taylor Primary Principal Shannon Richards said she has hired a literacy coach to work with teachers to develop the required 90-minute reading instruction block. The school will use the MCLASS reading assessment to determine each child’s reading level and needs, “so teachers can continue to make informed decisions about adjusting instruction according to the needs of individual students.”

Howard Elementary Principal Jeaniene Garrison said in the Northwestern School Corp., existing before- and after-school tutoring programs will continue, and Title I may move from focusing on some students to a school-wide program to work with all students.

Garrison said while developing the programs, compiling and understanding data and training teachers to use the right strategies is time-consuming, “it is all worth it. We are in a competitive world economy, and making sure our children read at grade level and above is necessary. Our future work force depends on us to meet the mandate.”

At Western, Tuberty said while the state mandate puts more pressure on teachers and children, there have been positive outcomes.

“Our teachers are using data and strategies, and understanding their students better, so their instruction matches what they need.”

• Danielle Rush is the Kokomo Tribune education reporter. She can be reached at 765-454-8585 or danielle.rush@kokomotribune.com.