By Morgan Krueger
Starting this year, if Oklahoma third graders cannot pass the state reading tests, they may be held back for up to two years.
This is the first year that third graders are subject to the third-grade reading retention qualifier, an amendment made to the Reading Sufficiency Act in 2011.
This act aims to lower the illiteracy of Oklahoma and aid children in gaining skills for success.
According to the Tulsa World, Janet Barresi, the state superintendent, warned parents that “we do no favors for students who are passed on to the next grade without having the most fundamental ability to read. The ability to read is a gateway to success in academics and in life. Reading isn’t just a subject, but the foundation of all learning.”
Barresi claims that the Oklahoma State Department of Education is working to prepare the districts for the move towards a stronger emphasis on reading skills. Third graders who earn scores of “unsatisfactory” on the reading portion of the OCCT will not be passed to fourth grade and instead will repeat third grade up to two times. The only exception is if they fit into the Six Good Cause Exemptions.
The Six Good Cause Exemptions include being an English Language Learner, having certain disabilities, providing a student portfolio to prove a mastery of Oklahoma state standards, or if the student had “previously been retained for a total of two years and…received intensive reading instruction” during those years, as ok.gov explains. However, if the student does not pass after the extra two years, they will be given the option to be placed in a “transitional instructional setting.”
Students can also be promoted using an alternative standardized reading assessment.
Of course, all of these requirements have very specific guidelines the child must meet, or they cannot continue to fourth grade.
By not passing the children, this law hopes to provide the child with time to catch up to their proper reading level through intensive training. During this time the reading skills targeted include spelling, vocabulary, phonics, comprehension and reading fluency.
It is recommended that the RtI (Response to Intervention) model, be used for children who are held back. This model has three tiers.
Tier I Intervention calls for “a minimum of ninety minutes of uninterrupted, daily scientific-research-based reading instruction,” according to ok.gov.
Tier II Intervention requires an additional 30 to 45 minutes of instruction, while Tier III requires 45 to 60 minutes of instruction above Tier I.
For Tier III students, this could amount to 2.5 hours. That’s longer than I would want to spend reading scientific-research-based material. And they’re supposed to do it each day?
Parents have commented on the new policy with fears that holding children back could damage their self-esteem. The state has emphasized they are holding children back not because they have failed but simply to help them exceed.
Still, children may not see it that way. Instead of empowering students to work hard to catch up, holding them back may dishearten them and cause them to give up or stop trying.
Beyond the possibility of harming students, this new law has another problem. Schools in low socioeconomic areas, such as TU’s close neighbor Kendall Whittier, find themselves facing large numbers of students not passing.
If such schools find a large number of students getting stuck in the third grade, this could pose massive problems logistically and harm both the students getting held back and the students trying to move forward.
Summer school could be a better alternative to holding students back.
This would provide time for students to catch up on reading without repeating a grade, hopefully avoiding harming their self-esteem while providing a fun learning environment.