We need to start holding 9-year-olds accountable, Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett said – that’s why they must be held back in third grade if they can’t pass a new state reading test.
The State Board of Education on Tuesday approved a reading rule that says schools must retain students in third grade if they don’t pass the test, called I-READ 3. The only exceptions are for special-needs students, non-English speakers and students who have already been retained twice. Parent and teacher assessments of whether children should be promoted won’t matter.
“When I’ve traveled around the state, I’m asked, ‘Where’s the accountability for parents and students?’” Bennett said. “This is accountability. One of the things we’ve learned in two years is that things happen when accountability occurs. What we inspect, they respect.”
Board members and Indiana Department of Education officials didn’t respond to – or even specifically acknowledge – objections that educators raised in public hearings last month. The educators cited research that shows academic gains made after retention don’t last; kids who are retained are two to 11 times more likely to drop out; and retention costs U.S. schools $14 billion a year.
The rule and an accompanying “reading framework” also require schools to intervene when children fall behind in reading and provide 90-minute, daily, uninterrupted blocks of time devoted to reading. Most schools will have to use “scientifically based” reading programs approved by the state.
Department of Education staff have suggested it may be possible to retain students in reading but pass them to fourth grade in other subjects; but it’s not clear how that would work.
The board passed the reading rule with a unanimous voice vote by all the members present. The rule becomes state law once it’s approved by Attorney General Greg Zoeller and Gov. Mitch Daniels, a process that could take a few weeks but is largely a technicality.
Board members also didn’t respond to a written statement sent by fellow member Mike Pettibone, who couldn’t get to the meeting. Pettibone, the superintendent of Adams Central Community Schools, recalled that Indiana tried test-based retention in the 1980s, and it didn’t work. “Do not punish the child or the family,” he said. “Retention is not a research-based tool to improve reading.”
Board member Neil Pickett, a former policy adviser to Daniels, at least acknowledged that the Department of Education has an obligation to monitor whether the rule is effective. “It’s a sobering amount of accountability,” Pickett said. “These are children’s lives. Holding them back in school has significant implications.”
A video of the board meeting can be viewed online.