Arguably the most egregious policy pushed by former Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett was the requirement that third-graders be retained for failing a reading test. Now it looks like his successor, Glenda Ritz, is trying to get rid of that rule.
As of now, the posted agenda for Friday’s State Board of Education meeting includes a proposal to start revising the state rule governing reading instruction. The revision would strike the part that, with some exceptions, mandates retention of students who don’t pass the third-grade reading exam, called IREAD-3. Instead, the proposal says that, if a student doesn’t read at grade level by the end of grade 3, the school “shall, in consultation with the parents, determine if retention, as a last resort, should be implemented.”
The proposal also would drop a requirement that schools provide 90 minutes of uninterrupted, daily reading instruction. They would still have to provide at least 90 minutes of reading instruction a day, but it could be broken up. This seems to make sense. For a lot of young children, 90 minutes of uninterrupted anything can be tough medicine.
Daniel Altman, spokesman for the state Department of Education, said eliminating the third-grade retention requirement will align the reading rule with what state legislators intended when they passed a law, in 2010, calling on the Department of Education to create a plan for improving early reading instruction, including retention “as a last resort” and with “appropriate consultation with parents or guardians.”
“It’s important to have this conversation,” he said. “We want to have the best reading instruction in Indiana that we can possibly have.”
The State Board of Education in early 2012 adopted a rule that said kids who failed the third-grade test should be held back – at least for purposes of state testing and accountability — regardless of what their parents or teachers think is appropriate. Exceptions were made for students in special education, certain English language learners and students who have already been retained twice or more.
Bennett was right to insistent on the urgency of early reading. Certainly every effort should be made to teach all children to read in the early grades. But that doesn’t mean you should rely on a single test score to make a student repeat a grade, which has consequences that can follow a child for years.
Typically, adopting a new education rule takes an initial vote by the State Board of Education, followed by a public comment period and a public hearing, then final approval by the board. It was less than two years ago when the board approved the third-grade retention rule, so it may seem unlikely that it will reverse course now. On the other hand, four members are new, appointed last month by Gov. Mike Pence. We may get a sense Friday of where they stand on the issue.