Local: Education

D.C. bill would prevent fourth-grade illiteracy

Local,DC,Education,Rachel Baye

A D.C. lawmaker introduced a bill Tuesday to prevent students from progressing to the fourth grade until they can read at or above a third-grade level.

The measure, sponsored by at-large Councilman Vincent Orange, would require students to take an "Annual Skills and Reading Diagnostic Assessment" at the end of each year, kindergarten through the third grade. If a student is not reading proficiently by the end of the third grade, the student will remain in that grade and be required to attend summer reading classes.

At the end of the third grade, "you're reading to learn, you're not learning to read," Orange said. And by the end of the third grade, "a kid that's not reading independently more likely than not will make contact with the criminal justice system in the long run."

Source: DC Comprehensive Assessment System 2012 results, from the Office of the State Superintendent of Education

Can Johnny read?
Percentage of students proficient in reading and math:
Year Reading Math
Third grade 41.6 36.2
Fourth grade 44.3 46.4
Third grade 40.5 37
Fourth grade 48.7 51.3

In 2012, less than half of the District's third-graders -- across DC Public Schools and public charter schools -- were proficient in reading, as only 40.5 percent reached that level on their standardized tests, the DC Comprehensive Assessment System. That was a drop by slightly more than 1 percent from 2011.

A report released last month also found third-graders in the District saw no statistically significant improvement in their test scores between 2007 and 2011.

"Our children still are not proficient with reading, but we still are not coming up with ways to address it," Orange said. "We can't keep doing the same thing over and over again expecting that we're going to get a new result."

Deciding not to advance students who are not ready makes sense, said David Pickens, executive director of the nonprofit DC School Reform Now. But basing that decision on a single assessment is also risky.

"They have to factor in many different things," he said. "Just taking one high-stakes test into consideration is usually not enough to get a clear picture of where a specific student is."

Representatives of the Office of the State Superintendent of Education and of DC Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson declined to comment, saying their offices are reviewing the legislation.

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