Bennett: Retention rule holds kids accountable

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. Continue reading

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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.

Proposed rule would retain third-graders if they fail state reading test?

Last year the Indiana legislature considered a proposal to retain students in third grade if they failed the reading section of the ISTEP-Plus exam. But lawmakers decided not to approve the proposal, citing cost concerns.

Now the State Board of Education is about to adopt the same requirement as an administrative rule. If there are costs, the Department of Education says, they will fall on local schools, which will just have to reallocate funds in order to pay them.

The state board will conduct a public hearing on the rule at 10 a.m. Thursday (Jan. 20) at the Indiana State Library in Indianapolis. It could then adopt the rule at any future meeting. The proposed rule can be read online, as can a DOE summary and FAQ.

In addition to retention, the rule requires schools to implement reading plans that spell out goals for student achievement and interventions for students who aren’t on track. Schools will have to provide 90-minute daily uninterrupted blocks of reading instruction in the primary grades, and most will have to use a research-based core reading program certified by the state.

There are logistical issues to implementing these plans, but it’s the hammer of mandatory retention – arguably punishing kids for failing a single test – that causes concern for some educators.

“I totally agree with the goals, and that we need to have students reading by third grade,” said Cameron Rains, director of elementary instruction for the Monroe County Community School Corp. “But looking at retention and what that does, I don’t know why that is the solution you want for students.” Continue reading