Even as many districts and individual schools have ramped up their instruction, this year’s implementation of a 2010 state law may mean an estimated 1,500 Arizona third-graders will be denied promotions to fourth grade for not meeting required reading levels
The Department of Education’s estimate of 1,500 third-graders— nearly 2 percent of the statewide enrollment for that grade — being held back is based on scores of tests from last year, The Arizona Republic reported.
Under the “Move On When Reading” law based on one enacted previously in Florida, students whose scores fall far below the third-grade reading standard will be deemed to “have significant gaps and limited knowledge and skills” and be held back for a year of third-grade instruction and remediation.
Third grade is the “make-or-break year” for students, state Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal said. “By fourth grade, if a student can’t read, they start to disengage from the whole educational process.”
The 2010 law exempts English-language learners and students in reading and language special-education programs. However, it does now allow exceptions for students who perform well in all areas except reading.
Efforts by third-grade teachers across Arizona include a program called Walk to Read at Johnson Elementary in the Mesa Unified School District.
During the program, second- and third-graders get up and walk to classrooms with reading activities that fit their skills.
Those still mastering word recognition and pronunciation sit in small groups and play phonics and spelling games.
More experienced readers are in another room where they practice reading paragraphs and short stories.
The students who are most skilled at reading go to a different room where they read independently and write essays about what they have read.
Many districts and charter schools, meanwhile, already are notifying parents that their children are struggling readers and may have to repeat third grade.
Letters to third-graders at risk of failing are mandatory in the middle of the current school year.
Letters sent by Johnson Elementary tell parents what the school is doing to help students improve their reading skills and make suggestions for activities that parents and kids can do at home.
Principal Cara Steiner said she wants all her school’s students to read for at least 10 minutes a day at home.
“I don’t care what they’re reading,” she said. “If it’s the cereal box, they’re still reading. Some kids aren’t going to love literature, and that’s OK. In real life, we read for information.”