By Susan Tebben
The Youngstown Board of Education passed a policy that, as part of a state statute put in place in July, requires third-graders to take reading tests and get extra reading help if they are found not to be reading at grade level.
The board passed a resolution at its regular meeting Thursday evening, adopting the policy on “Third Grade Reading Guarantee.”
The policy was passed in spring 2012 as part of Ohio Senate Bill 316, and part of an education policy package supported by Gov. John Kasich. In the 2012-13 school year, schools allowed students to move on to fourth grade if the principal and the student’s reading teacher determined that the student was ready for fourth grade academically.
But in the 2013-14 school year, the policy is to become more rigid, according to state law.
“There’s a pre-test at the beginning of the year for students, and if the test shows they are below grade level, the school has to provide assistance to the student,” said Douglas Hiscox, deputy superintendent of academic affairs.
The tests happen at the end of first and second grade as well, and the students are designated either “on track” or “not on track,” as defined by the Ohio Department of Education.
In order to assess students in their reading abilities, an English language-arts diagnostic assessment approved by the ODE is given Sept. 30 for students from kindergarten through third grade, according to the resolution approved by the board.
If a student is found to be below reading level, parents are notified in writing that a “reading deficiency” has been found and the list of services provided to students.
Reading intervention begins immediately, according to the resolution, a reading improvement and monitoring plan is developed by the school within 60 days and a qualified teacher to help with reading deficiencies is enlisted by the school.
In May, another test is conducted to check the status of students.
“At the end of the year, we decide if the student needs to be fully retained [kept in the grade] or partially retained [moved up a class but still receiving extra assistance],” Hiscox said.
Exceptions to the new policy include students who are “limited English proficient” because of having been enrolled in United States schools for less than two school years and are learning English as a second language. Students entitled to special education and those who have taken an alternative standardized reading assessment also are exceptions in the policy.
As of right now, the new policy does not cost the school district extra funds, since it has enough personnel to fill the duties. But the school recently has applied for a $100,000 grant to assist with reading programs, Hiscox said.