Thursday, December 5, 2013

Forced retention in 3rd grade: Bad practice, bad policy

As a former reading teacher I understand the value and importance of reading. Readers who struggle early will have an increasingly difficult time as they progress through school.

The Michigan state legislature has proposed legislation that would force retention of 3rd grade students based on their performance on the state assessments. 

However, retaining students based on their performance on just one state assessment in 3rd grade is bad policy and bad practice.

In Novi we have four different assessments of third grade students.

The MEAP test, given in October of the third grade year, provides an initial assessment of his/her achievement as a student enters 3rd grade. Given proper instruction this performance is likely to improve over the course of third grade. There are still 8 months of instruction left before the student is ready to leave third grade. Basing their retention on this metric alone is inappropriate.

We also give the NWEA – a nationally normed assessment – in September and May for students in grades K-10. This assessment provides a growth measure which gives us a tool to identify if a student is making growth over the course of the year.

For third grade students this provides us with a tool to see if they are growing and if they would be ready to continue moving ahead.

What if a student is showing growth on the NWEA by the end of 3rd grade but was not proficient on the MEAP at the beginning of third grade? Is it appropriate to retain them even though they were showing growth?

Also, consider the scenario where a student is not proficient on the MEAP but is proficient and at grade level on the NWEA. How would we explain to a parent that their student is being retained even though a nationally normed assessment indicates that they are on grade level?

We also use a literacy based assessment called Fountas and Pinnell. With this assessment students actually read to their teachers and teachers can identify if students are where they need to be or not. Additionally it is a measure that is used multiple times throughout the year.

Again, a student could not be proficient on the MEAP but is at level using the Fountas and Pinnell. How do we explain to a parent that the state is requiring us to retain their student?

Finally, our fourth assessment, is the ongoing work that teachers do with students throughout the year. Good teachers do not need a test to know if a student is performing at grade level or not. Assessments help confirm what good teachers see every day. If there is a discrepancy between performance and assessment the teachers judgement needs to be part of the discussion. 

What is proposed is bad legislation.

If legislators feel the need to do something, I would suggest that an alternative would be to state the following:

“Students must be assessed in a variety of manners to determine their achievement and growth. The state will allow districts to determine these multiple measures. The multiple measures must be communicated clearly to parents. If a student is not proficient on multiple measures school personnel, parents, and the students must work together to identify appropriate intervention strategies.”

This alternative probably won't be adopted because it honors the judgement of professional educators.

However, simply retaining students based on their performance on one assessment is not good practice or good policy.

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