Under the law, third-graders must pass a state reading test or risk being held back.
Success of the law will depend on identifying at-risk students early on and providing them with tools to succeed, educators told The Arizona Republic.
“Everyone’s looking for the program that’s the silver bullet,” but improving literacy requires schools to work together and share information, said Terri Clark, the state’s literacy director. Her team is working on compiling effective strategies that schools are using to improve reading.
Clark said there’s still plenty of work to be done before the law goes into effect: “Arizona has been trying to get ready. I don’t know if we have the resources and the infrastructure yet to really be ready.”
Arizona is among 32 states that have passed laws that identify and retain students if they are unable to read by third grade. Research shows that third-graders’ ability to read is a clear link to future academic and career success. Third-graders who can read at grade level are more likely to graduate from high school and enroll in college.
The state’s school districts and charters will be expected to test students regularly to identify those in need of extra help. School officials also are required to notify parents of students in kindergarten through third grade if their children might be held back.
Passed in 2010, the state’s Move On When Reading law calls for retaining third-graders who fall far below on the Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards reading test. Exceptions are made for those who have disabilities or are still learning English.
The state will replace AIMS next school year with a new test aligned to tougher Common Core standards, but it’s expected to maintain the same reading requirement.
If a child is held back, schools must provide remedial options, such as summer and online classes.
The Arizona Department of Education estimates about 3,345 students — about 4 percent of third-graders — will score far below what’s needed, based on 2012 AIMS scores. But most will qualify for an exemption.
Last year, the students who struggled most on the AIMS reading test were those with disabilities or limited English proficiency, or those who are Native American or come from migrant families.
Stacey Morley, the department’s director of government relations, said about 1,500 students likely will be held back.
That number may be smaller because teachers in early-elementary classrooms have been teaching to more rigorous Common Core standards over the last couple of years, potentially better preparing students for AIMS.
This year, school districts and charter schools with kindergarteners through third-graders are expected to receive an extra $132 per student — a total of about $40 million — if they submitted plans to the State Board of Education detailing how they would improve reading scores. Nearly all eligible schools applied.
Schools must show that they are testing students in their early years, providing teachers extra training focused on building reading skills and implementing intervention strategies, such as small groups.