Lawmaker: Board of Education disregarded legislative intent with IREAD-3

Was the Indiana State Board of Education just complying with the wishes of the Legislature when it adopted a rule last year that says third-graders must be retained if they don’t pass a reading test? Not according to the author of the bill in question.

Rep. Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis, told School Matters that lawmakers clearly weren’t saying kids should be held back on the basis of their performance on a single test.

“The state superintendent and board of education essentially usurped what we said we wanted done as a legislature,” he said. “They went beyond the intent of the legislation.”

Porter was chairman of the House Education Committee in 2010, and in that role he was the lead sponsor of HEA 1367 – also known as Public Law 109 — which called for for improving reading skills for students in primary grades.

The legislation, Porter said, was a compromise that reflected strong reservations about the push by Gov. Mitch Daniels and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett to require students to pass a reading test in order to be promoted to fourth grade. It said retention should be used only as a last resort.

Porter said lawmakers were aware of research showing that students who are held back are much less likely to graduate from high school, and they also questioned implementing such high-stakes accountability when Indiana trailed other states in funding early-childhood education. Some legislators, he said, were concerned about the cost of the Daniels-Bennett proposal.

The reading test, called IREAD-3, was given for the first time last month. Results are expected in May.

Given that Bennett pushed for test-based retention and testified in favor of the approach, it’s a bit odd that the Department of Education seems at times to put responsibility for the policy on the legislature.

A DOE web page explaining IREAD-3 says the test results from the legislature’s approval of “Public Law 109, which ‘requires the evaluation of reading skills for students who are in grade three beginning in the Spring of 2012 to ensure that all students can read proficiently before moving on to grade four.’” It appears that many Indiana elementary schools have cut-and-pasted that language to their own websites.

It’s not clear what the DOE is quoting in that statement, but it’s not quoting PL 109. What the law says, actually, is that the state superintendent and board of education shall develop a plan for improving early reading skills, including “a method for making determinant evaluations by grade 3 that might require remedial action for the student, including retention as a last resort, after other methods of remediation have been evaluated or used, or both, if reading skills are below the standard. Appropriate consultation with parents or guardians must be part of the plan.”

In a recent public affairs program on WTIU in Bloomington, Wes Bruce, the department’s chief assessment officer, explained IREAD-3 this way: “The legislature chose to put in place a law that mandated this test and made third grade the benchmark.”

The law may have authorized the department to create IREAD-3 as a “determinant evaluation.” But it seems like a stretch to say the legislature “mandated this test” – and even more so to suggest lawmakers called for retaining students who fail the test.

Understandably, there’s starting to be some push-back against the idea that students should flunk a grade based on their performance on a single 40-question exam.

John Ellis, executive director of the Indiana Association of Public School Superintendents, tells Education Week that the state board “overreached” on the issue. Ellis says school districts should consult with parents to decide whether a child who fails IREAD-3 should be held back.

In the same article, Steven Yager, superintendent of Southwest Allen County Schools in suburban Fort Wayne, says his district plans to follow the law, not the state board rule. “‘Last resort’ means it’s a combined agreement with the parents and the school district. … Until we’re told to do something different, that’s the way we’re going to handle it,” he says.

Finally, as the Bloomington Herald-Times reports today (subscription required), Monroe County parents involved with the Indiana Coalition for Public Education have created an online petition calling for an end to IREAD-3. You can sign it here.

Be sure to read the comments posted by the petition’s signers. They reflect the concerns that the State Board of Education could have considered before adopting the rule, but apparently chose to ignore.

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7 thoughts on “Lawmaker: Board of Education disregarded legislative intent with IREAD-3

  1. Thanks for your clarifying coverage of this issue. I called Representative Porter’s office today and spoke with his assistant. I was curious what mechanism lawmakers might have to rein in the DOE. She didn’t seem to think that the will or the ability would be there to do that (I’m not sure which), but she said she thought it might come to a lawsuit. I also called Rep. Behning and Senators Kruse and Kinley (it’s my understanding they also sponsored PL 109). I asked how they regarded IREAD as conforming to the law’s statement that “appropriate consultation with parents and guardians must be part of the plan.” Their assistants did not seem to think that they had thought about it, but said they would ask. I hope to follow up with them next week…and hope the press will beat me to it.

  2. Parents were not properly informed of when the retest would be taken and how much summer camp a child would have to attend in order to retake it. Children with two parents who both work outside the home are not provided a fair advantage here not to mention the already difficult changes the 3rd grade curriculum has undergone and ever increasing classroom sizes in our federally funded schools.

    Each child develops at a different pace and the age of our children was not a factor when IREAD was introduced. Children born right before the cut off month of the school year are absolutely going to have more trouble then the classmates born the Fall months earlier.

    It is unjust to make such a demand on our children and parents whose tax dollars are spent to ensure each child receives a fair education. Not one based on a standardized test that makes too many assumptions on whether or not 4th grade should only accept those that pass this. If anything it should be an evaluation on the key areas a child needs work on in the next year.

    My daughter got a 100% on the Vocabulary portion. The Nonfiction & Literary parts were what held her back. This is unacceptable. I am now in a very compromising position as we had planned not to be in town as a family during the retesting and have been working on school registration with another school. They scheduled the retesting for the first two weeks following the end of the school year. How does allow for our kids to grow developmentally in these areas. They won’t be focused when taking the retest.

  3. In NWACS the “last resort” is handled this way. If a child flunks they will “provide opportunities for reinforcement of reading skills/strategies within our balanced literacy approach. ” (Should I interpret it as catching up in the last few weeks of school? Could they mean summer school? Summer school is only two weeks before school starts?) The child will then retake the test before school starts. If the child fails again, we were told we had one of three choices 1. the child can retake 3rd all over again, 2. the child can go on to 4th grade curriculum (but will be reported as 3rd grader with the Indiana Dept. of Education.) They will take the third grade ISTEP and IREAD next year 3. If a child already has an IEP they can opt out of 1-2. This can happen to the child two years in a row. If they flunk for two years they are allowed to move on since it’s considered “A Good Cause Exemption”.
    My child has an IEP. He has several learning disabilities but his IQ is fine. He has been in the resource room most of the day for two years. They’ve managed to get him up to the end of grade one reading. Now, we are in the position of deciding if we should hold him back because he doesn’t progress fast enough. I’m already paying for a tutor who knows how to deal with his LD since the school seems at a loss with what to do with him. If he’s held back two years he’ll be 21 before he graduates. If we push him on he’ll be behind. Here’s a few suggestions. Fix the reading program in the classrooms. Find the children that are struggling earlier than the end of Kindergarten. Reading Readiness in my child’s school is taught by all sight reading. (Sight reading doesn’t work for every child.) IEPs are great but if the child is only making 1/4 years progress in an entire year you must find out why. I’m footing the bill with several doctors and tutors because the school can’t seem to do it. I’m in a great school system too!!!

    • I am having a very similar situations as yours……My child did not qualify until this past year for an IEP….however, she’s had problems since preschool. She has epilepsy and in 2010 she had a third of her brain removed. Second semester of third grade we pulled her back down to 2nd grade. She then repeated 3rd grade the following year. She didn’t pass the IREAD in 2012 but makes As, Bs and Cs in school. She understands what she reads if she’s forced to read slowly and there aren’t too many distractions. She does fine at home when she reads and I then quiz her. So, what’s wrong at school? Why does she have such a hard time at school? Do they really think that a third year with the same teachers will benefit her? My daughter is very well aware of what is going on and holding her back again will only destroy her. She will be 20 when she graduates and will graduate with her two year younger sister. Confused? yes, i am.

  4. Pingback: Legislature’s education oversight commission in action this week « School Matters

  5. Pingback: Senator agrees: Indiana education board overreached with reading retention rule « School Matters

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