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Hays educators skeptical of retention plan

11/1/2012

By JUDY SHERARD

jsherard@dailynews.net

Retaining some third-grade students struggling with reading once again is becoming a talking point with some state legislators.

Several states, including Florida, have passed similar legislation.

An Associated Press story has reported Kansas House Education Chairman Steve Huebert, R-Valley Center, already is considering legislation for the 2013 session that would require some third-grade students to repeat a grade because they aren't prepared for fourth grade.

However, parents could opt out by acknowledging their child is being promoted even though not prepared.

A bill requiring third-graders who scored in the bottom two levels of state reading assessments be retained, was introduced during the 2012 legislative session but didn't pass.

Local educators were aware of the premise of retaining third-grade students but don't like mandates based on test scores. Administrators and teachers believe it should be left up to the school district.

The Hays USD 489 district looks at individual cases, said Allen Park, Washington Elementary School principal.

"If we retain a student, we try not to do it past the first grade, (and) we do it as a team. It's a process that involves the parent," he said.

Michelle Callahan, a third-grade teacher at Roosevelt Elementary School, agreed.

"When we retain a student, we want to do good overall. That's a parent's decision."

Reading difficulties usually are identified and focused on much earlier than third grade in the district, said Amy Wasinger, a third-grade teacher at O'Loughlin Elementary School.

Superintendent Will Roth said he's in favor of programs that boost reading skills, but retaining students might not be the best option.

"The third grade (retention) has been tried in several places; some places without much success," he said. "The places that continue to have it seem to be constantly adjusting what that cut-off point is. To me, that's the real problem. What do you make that cut off?"

Sen. Allen Schmidt, D-Hays, saw the retention law first hand when he lived in Florida. Schmidt's friend, Mary Reynolds, had a son who was a successful student who suffered from test anxiety.

"She told me that her child had a bad FCAT (Florida's Comprehensive Assessment Test) test day and didn't get a high enough score to advance to fourth grade," Schmidt wrote in an email.

Reynolds has been an educator for 23 years, teaching grades first through fifth, and works as an instructional trainer assigned to a Title 1 school in Pasco County, Fla.

A total of 21 third-grade students were retained at one school in her district last year because of the mandatory retention law, so it creates lopsided classes with unusually large third-grade classes.

"Third grade is very late to retain. The educational, social and emotional obstacles a student faces at this age and on outweigh any perceived advantages believed to be put into play with this law," Reynolds wrote in an email.

"The claim that it will make them work harder, if that's the reason, that doesn't have any merit with me," Roth said. "If it's a red light that we've got to get this kid help, and we've got to get it fast, and we have to have it intense, if that's the purpose of it, then it might be a good thing. ... If it's just a penalty, then it's not going to work."