Will Indiana drop third-grade retention rule?

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 Continue reading

Indiana third-grade reading results: big splash, bad data

Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett made a splash Tuesday with the release of 2012 IREAD-3 test results for the state’s third-graders. But maybe he should have waited a bit longer to leap into the pool.

No sooner had Bennett announced the numbers than his Department of Education sent out a notice that some of the numbers were being corrected. And two days later, there are apparently still inaccuracies in the data the state has made available.

It’s impossible to know how far off the reported data are from the actual test results. It’s probably not a lot, but it’s enough to matter to the affected schools.

“It’s unfortunate the data was not right before the state sent it out,” said Cameron Rains, director of elementary education for the Monroe County Community School Corp. in Bloomington.

IREAD-3 is the new reading test that Indiana third-graders must pass to be promoted to fourth grade. Three categories of students can be promoted if they don’t pass: special-needs students, English language learners and students who have already been retained two or more times.

Third-graders who didn’t pass in March can try again in July. In the MCCSC, those students have been receiving intervention and will be asked to take part in a seven-week summer reading camp, Rains said.

Part of the data problem involved students who attend private schools or are home-schooled but receive special-education services from public schools. Initially, those students were mistakenly coded as attending public schools. Continue reading

State releases IREAD-3 results

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett took a glass-is-84-percent-full approach when he released IREAD-3 test results today. And, yes, it’s a credit to Indiana teachers and students that 84 percent of the state’s third-graders passed the test.

But the fact remains that 12,000 children didn’t pass. And many of them will be retained in third grade, whether their parents and teachers think it’s the right thing to do or not.

Students who didn’t pass will get one more chance. Also, we don’t know how many will qualify for good-cause exemptions from being retained, because they are in special education, are English language learners, or have already been held back twice.

Bennett highlighted one charter school and three traditional public schools where 90 percent or more of third-graders passed IREAD-3 even though the schools have high percentages of poor or ELL students. That’s impressive.

But the fact remains that there’s a strong correlation between poverty and high rates of failure on standardized tests, including IREAD-3. Most of the school districts where more than 25 percent of students didn’t pass the test are those with high percentages of poor and minority students – including East Chicago, Indianapolis, Gary, Elkhart, Michigan City, South Bend and Marion.

National Public Radio’s StateImpact Indiana posted IREAD-3 results in a searchable database, along with a good quick report on the highlights. But one has to question the insistence by state officials that the good-cause exemptions are “broad enough that districts can determine which students truly need retention.” The exemptions are very specific and narrowly tailored – more so than those in Florida, which was Indiana’s model for the third-grade retention rule.

It’s also clear that test-based retention of third-graders isn’t what the Indiana General Assembly wanted when it passed legislation in 2010 calling for a plan to improve reading achievement. Yes, we should celebrate students who did well on IREAD-3 – and schools that pulled out the stops to help their students pass. But legislators, parents and educators should continue to question this policy.

Senator agrees: Indiana education board overreached with reading retention rule

Sen. Luke Kenley has affirmed that Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett and the Indiana State Board of Education went beyond the bounds of state law when they adopted a rule that requires third-graders to pass a reading test or face grade-level retention.

“I would just put the Department of Education and the State Board on notice that they’re clearly not in line with the words in the statute so they’re opening themselves up perhaps to a lawsuit or a complaint by somebody on those grounds,” the Noblesville Republican tells NPR’s StateImpact Indiana.

Kenley’s words echo what Rep. Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis, told School Matters last month: that Bennett and the state board “essentially usurped” what lawmakers put in the 2010 legislation that called for ensuring children develop strong reading skills.

Both Kenley and Porter were members of the House-Senate conference committee that agreed to a compromise version of the bill, so if anyone knows what it was supposed to mean, they should. Kenley’s words could arguably carry even more weight because, like Bennett, he is a Republican, a member of the party that controls both the House and Senate.

And not just any Republican. He chairs the powerful Appropriations Committee as well as serving on the Education and Career Development Committee. By virtue of the latter appointment, he’s also part of the Select Commission on Education that the legislature created to review policies adopted by the state board and the Indiana Department of Education. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Indiana to retain students based on test scores despite lack of research support

Indiana schools are embarking this month on a massive experiment, one with potentially far-reaching consequences for thousands of young students.

Third-graders will be taking a new standardized test called IREAD-3, designed to measure whether they are reading at grade level. Most students who don’t pass – either now or in a re-test in the summer – will be forced to repeat the third grade.

That’s a lot of pressure to put on 8- or 9-year-old kids. And it’s not at all clear from the research that holding slow readers back will help them in the long run.

The Indiana reading program, given final approval in February by the State Board of Education, is modeled on an initiative that Florida adopted in 2002. Emily Richmond reports in The Atlantic that several other states, including Arizona and Oklahoma, are starting down the same path.

Indiana’s approach is even tougher than Florida’s, however. Indiana allows only three categories of good-cause exemptions from the no-pass, no-promotion rule: students with disabilities, students who aren’t proficient in English and students who have already been retained twice.

In Florida, there’s also an exemption for third-graders who can demonstrate, through a teacher-selected portfolio of written work, that they can read at grade level. In effect, Florida teachers may put a thumb on the scale for children who are ready for fourth grade but bomb the test. Not so in Indiana.

The state Department of Education has said that students who don’t pass could be promoted to fourth grade in other subjects; they just have to be retained in reading. But as a practical matter, that’s not likely to happen. The students will be coded by the state as third-graders, and they will be required to retake third-grade ISTEP-Plus exams in math and language arts the following year, even if they passed those tests the first time around.

Retention vs. ‘social promotion’

Supporters of test-based retention argue that “social promotion,” passing students to the next grade regardless of how much they’ve learned, causes them to fall farther behind their peers, until they have no hope of catching up. That’s especially true, they say, for students who don’t learn basic reading skills by third grade, after which they should move from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.”

But even if you think social promotion is misguided, it doesn’t necessarily follow that retention should be based on a single test, ignoring the judgment of teachers and parents. Continue reading