State board about to decide on third-grade retention rule

A proposed rule that would force schools to retain students who don’t pass a third-grade reading test could face a vote by the State Board of Education this week. The board meets Tuesday at 1 p.m. in Indianapolis.

The rule, which was the subject of a previous post on School Matters, also requires elementary schools to implement reading plans that include goals for student achievement and interventions for students who fall behind. Schools will have to devote 90-minute uninterrupted blocks of time to reading instruction in grades K-3 and use research-based reading programs.

The state board accepted comments on the proposal at public hearings on Jan. 20 and Jan. 25. The hearings, video of which can be viewed online, brought comments from reading specialists, principals, superintendents and representatives of the state associations of teachers and school administrators.

Thirteen people testified. And while some praised certain aspects of the rule, all 13 said unequivocally that it’s wrong to hold kids back based on results of a single test.

Speakers cited research showing that the academic gains children make after being retained don’t persist; that students are two to 11 times more likely to drop out of school if they are held back than if they aren’t; and that forcing students to repeat grades costs the nation $14 billion a year.

“There is no research that retention benefits children,” said Whitney Witkowski, principal of Abraham Lincoln Elementary School on the south side of Indianapolis. “There is a substantial body of research about the negative effects … Retention is not only ineffective but it punishes children.”

Several speakers suggested that, if Indiana wants to help kids learn to read, it should require kindergarten attendance and fund pre-kindergarten programs. And some pointed out that the retention mandate goes considerably further than the 2010 state legislation that called on the Department of Education to develop a rule to make reading instruction more effective.

Department of Education staff members are suggesting some changes to the proposed rule. One spells out that students should get a second chance to pass the yet-to-be-developed reading test, possibly after remediation in summer school, before they are held back. Another makes clear that the rule applies to charter schools as well as regular public schools.

But the pass-the-test or fail-the-grade language remains – the only exceptions are for special-needs students, non-English speakers and children who have already been retained twice.

Interestingly, when the State Board of Education has a hearing, members apparently don’t need to show up. Who knew? Not a single board member was present on Jan. 20, when weather was apparently an issue. On Jan. 25, David Shane was the only board member on hand.

Presumably the other board members can watch the video of the hearing and read testimony submitted in writing. Let’s hope they do, and that they consider the issue with an open mind.

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One thought on “State board about to decide on third-grade retention rule

  1. Pingback: Bennett: Retention rule holds kids accountable « School Matters

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