Reading is such a basic skill, you can’t argue against children being able to read at grade level by the time they leave the third grade. Thus, the persisting concern with Ohio’s third-grade reading guarantee is not that the state has drawn a line in the sand at third grade, demanding that students attain a minimum reading level before they can move on. The concern is that without an equal commitment guaranteeing the necessary supports, lawmakers merely are putting up window dressing and setting up teachers and children for failure.
Among the requirements, students in kindergarten through third grade must be given annually a diagnostic reading test by Sept. 30, beginning in the coming school year. For each student who is not on track to reach competency, schools must begin immediate reading intervention and develop a reading improvement and monitoring plan within 60 days. Further, they must provide each student a teacher who has a reading endorsement on his or her teaching license or has passed a state-approved reading instruction test.
As it should, the law does put appropriate emphasis on immediate intervention and assigning the qualified reading instructors to students with serious difficulties. The problem? A shortage of teachers who have the requisite qualifications.
As Michael Sawyers explained last week, there are not enough teachers who have the reading endorsement in hand. The interim state superintendent of schools noted also that there is no way to bump up the supply in time for next fall as it takes at least 12 semester hours of college credit to complete the endorsement. It’s just not practical to think that “we’re going to have this mad rush of people going out to get this reading endorsement … and complete 12 to 18 hours of credit,” Sawyers said. He is seeking an alternative to bridge the gap between legislative demands and reality.
This is not Ohio’s first run at a reading guarantee. The assurance legislators and Gov. John Kasich have given in driving hard at the reading goal is that this time will be different. Will it? Educators already point out that the $13 million reluctantly appropriated in the budget for the guarantee barely scratches the surface. The shortage of reading specialists is another major hurdle. It helps no one to draw up a perfect plan if the odds are slim it will be executed properly.