INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - The state Board of Education approved a plan that would require third-graders to pass a new reading test before being promoted to the fourth grade.
Gov. Mitch Daniels is expected to approve the plan the board endorsed Tuesday, according to the Indianapolis Star. If approved, it would take effect for students finishing third grade in the spring of 2013. Daniels pushed for the end of so-called "social promotion" of third-graders in his State of the State address last year.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett said Indiana currently ranks 27th nationwide in fourth grade reading achievement.
"It is our hope this new reading plan will assist Indiana students in moving towards the head of the pack," he said.
A new statewide third grade reading test will be a new test developed by the same company that produces the ISTEP statewide exams. About a third of third grade students fail the English and language arts ISTEP test each year, but the new exam will be designed with the expectation that all students who can read will pass the test.
"This is so fundamental to a child's success, I think we absolutely must draw a line in the sand," said board member Jim Edwards.
Under provisions adopted by the board Tuesday, students who do not pass the test on the first try could attempt the test again during locally-offered summer school, and could move to fourth grade if they pass on that attempt. All students would have to pass the exam to advance unless they qualified for one of the plans' three exemptions: one for special education students, one for English language learners and one for students that have been retained twice prior to fourth grade.
School districts won't get any extra money to implement the changes. State education officials say districts may have to reallocate money to focus on reading if they struggle to get students to pass the exams, but don't know the exact amount that could be shifted.
Board member Neil Pickett said the Department of Education will have to track the effects of the rule carefully to be sure it has the desired effect.
"It's a sobering amount of accountability," he said. "These are children's lives. Holding them back in school has significant implications. The need to help a high percentage of kids get to the goal outweighs the negatives."
Special education teacher Ann Arosteguy, from Dexter Elementary School in Evansville, said the rule will create headaches for schools like hers. More than 80 percent of Dexter students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, and she said the school already does all it can to help kids learn to read — including offering before- and after-school programs.
"Either we'll see an explosion of special education numbers, or third grade will be huge," she said. "We already bend over backwards to be creative with our reading program. Hold them back? That's not the answer."
During the 2010 legislative session, Daniels called on lawmakers to pass a bill banning the advancement of third-graders who cannot read proficiently. The measure fell short when legislative staff discovered holding those students back would cost schools $49 million, but lawmakers instead passed a watered-down bill that called on the state board to create a plan to "improve reading skills of students and implement appropriate remediation techniques," up to and including retention after third grade.
The board's reading proposal applies all schools that have students in kindergarten through third grade, including charter schools.
Information from: The Indianapolis Star, http://www.indystar.com
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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