It’s Not as Simple as Holding Back 3rd Graders

Thanks to the continued shadiness of the Kentucky General Assembly I have been watching hours of committee meetings and chamber sessions to stay on top of what our Legislature is up to this session. Needless to stay my mind stays blown and my blood pressure stays raised most days.

One of the bills that has really piqued my interest is regarding mandated testing of 3rd graders for math and reading fluency and then holding back every child that doesn’t meet the standard in one of the areas.  I get it – at first glance maybe this sounds great and like it makes perfect sense. Of course I want all kids reading and doing math on grade level. I’m not crazy.

The problem isn’t wanting kids to be proficient in reading and math by the end of 3rd grade, the problem is that the bill doesn’t address how to fix the plethora of issues that cause kids not to be on grade level in the first place.

First, there is no proficiency test written yet and no one seems to know who would write it, when it would be ready, or where the funding would come from for printing, administering, or scoring this mandated test. In the session the other day it was brought up that the group they asked to write the test said they had no one qualified to write the assessment. Cart meet horse.

Then we have the fact that no funding is included to better help teachers in making sure students are meeting grade level standards. Teaching is a science and teachers need up to date trainings and professional learnings yet our General Assembly has continued to slash funding for these opportunities. Most districts barely have professional learning funds at all much less the amount required to invest in this kind of training.

One also can’t forget about the curriculum disparity issue. There are districts across the state of Kentucky using unaligned and low quality curricula that do not meet grade level standards  or address the need for phonics instruction. The bill of course provides no provisions, mandates, or funding for this either. Luckily thanks to the OER movement there are more and more high quality curricula on the market at low or no cost available to districts but there are many districts still not using these options. I have recommended more than once that districts and Superintendents be held accountable for adopting and using low-quality curriculum but the legislature doesn’t seem to want to adopt a mandate like that…a quick look at companies that spend 8+million dollars lobbying legislators each year will give you a big idea why.

And then there are the other questions.

I also keep thinking about what happens when 50% of a school’s 3rd grade doesn’t meet 1 or 2 of the benchmarks. Do we hold back 50% of a grade level so that next year instead of 120 3rd graders we have 180? What if the next year there are then 270?

What if a student doesn’t meet the benchmark the 2nd year? The 3rd?

What about our ELL students?

What about students brand new to our country in 3rd grade?

What about the refugees I taught that experience significant trauma?

What about our students with disabilities?

See I don’t have the answers to all of these things but neither does our legislature. Passing a bill doesn’t miraculously answer these questions. Instead it puts another testing requirement on students who already have end of year state assessment and more pressure on already over worked teachers. I do think there are mandates and requirements that could benefit students and districts but those aren’t the ones legislators are willing to pass because that would affect those putting money in their pocket.

Here’s what I do know though – It’s not as simple as just holding back 3rd Graders.

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