Five years ago to the day, Ohio Gov. John R. Kasich signed into law a bill that included the Third Grade Reading Guarantee with this unequivocal statement:
“If you can’t read you might as well forget it. Kids who make their way through social promotion beyond the third grade, when they get to the 8th, 9th, 10th grade, they get lapped; the material becomes too difficult.”
To bolster the argument that students are making an investment in their futures by reading at grade level, the Kasich administration pointed to an Annie E. Casey Foundation report.
It found that children who cannot read at grade level by the third grade are four times more likely to drop out before the 12th grade.
“No one should be surprised,” the governor said. “We will not delay any hold-back in the third grade if you can’t read.”
The multi-faceted education and workforce development bill that Kasich signed June 25, 2012, included a requirement that some third-graders be held back if they fail to meet the reading standards.
While the governor did not single out any school districts, he could well have been talking about the Youngstown schools, which were placed in state-mandated academic emergency in 2010.
Indeed, the Youngstown school system has been on the governor’s radar from his first day in office. That unwavering attention gave birth to the Youngstown Plan.
Under the plan, a special academic distress commission was appointed, with the main task of hiring a chief executive officer to run the district.
Krish Mohip, a veteran educator from Chicago, was brought on board a year ago to guide the urban district out of the academic cellar.
Last September, Mohip unveiled a three-year academic recovery plan with this comment: “We are digging into the root causes of our challenges so together, as a community, we can make significant changes so that our students have a better present and future.”
One of those long-standing root causes has been the inability of many students to read and comprehend at grade level.
Reading has not been fundamental for children in the inner city neighborhoods, which explains the academic failure of so many of them.
We were heartened, therefore, to learn from a front-page story last week that Youngstown’s third-grade reading performance had improved.
Reporter Amanda Tonoli obtained the results from the Ohio Department of Education and crunched the numbers.
The bottom line: Youngstown City Schools had a 7-percent increase in overall third-grade reading proficiency.
According to the school district, scores of proficient on the state assessment in third-grade reading jumped from 27 percent to 34 percent of test takers.
The improvement prompted this reaction from CEO Mohip:
“[I]t shows that what we’ve been doing is working. This demonstrates what our children can accomplish when supported with quality, targeted instruction led by skilled and committed teachers and principals and informed by data.”
But not everyone is impressed with the results.
Brenda Kimble, president of the inconsequential Youngstown Board of Education, was dismissive of the 7-percent improvement in the scores.
“Everything I’ve come across has shown our district’s grades are totally down from even last year,” Kimble told The Vindicator’s Tonoli. “I would want to know what data is being used, where this growth is being measured from and where it ended.”
If Kimble were truly concerned about the education of Youngstown’s young people, she would have contacted the Ohio Department of Education and requested the results of the third-grade reading assessment.
And had she done so, she would have learned that out of 382 students tested in spring 2017, the average score was 684 with 34 percent of the students scoring proficient.
A year earlier, 395 students took the state assessment; the average score was 667 and 27 percent scored proficient.
No one is suggesting that the latest results are anything to brag about, but they do show improvement. That’s a major step in the right direction.