ISTEP may determine 3rd grade pass or fail

A proposal before Indiana lawmakers states that third grade students who fail the language arts portion of the ISTEP test would have to repeat the third grade until they passed.

Indiana’s governor endorsed the bill during Tuesday night’s State of the State Address.

“Sending an illiterate child on to higher grades is unfair to the next teacher, damaging to our state’s future, but cruelest of all, disastrous to the young life being blighted by that failure,” Daniels said.

Governor Daniels reasons that “If, after four years, the system has failed in its most fundamental duty, then it will simply have to try again until it gets it right.”

Some local educators today made it clear that there are two schools of thought on the matter. “While we’re all looking for that magic bullet, and retention is sometimes thought of as a magic bullet, that, it is just not that simple,” said Dr. Michael Horvath, the Dean of the IUSB School of Education.

Horvath and others have done some reading of their own, which suggests that there’s a fine line between getting too tough on third graders, and leaving a permanent scar.

“The research on retention shows that drop outs are about five times more likely to have been retained than high school graduates,” said Penn Harris Madison School District Superintendent Dr. Jerry Thacker. “And if a student is retained twice, the probability of the student dropping out is nearly 100-percent.”

Statewide, about 24-percent of all Indiana third graders failed the language arts portion of ISTEP the last time the test was given.

In the Penn Harris Madison District, 81.4% of third graders passed, but some other local districts had passing percentages in the 50’s (South Bend 58.8% passed, Elkhart 54.7% passed, Goshen 57.6% passed).

With so many students failing to make the grade, some educators believe there are safer steps that can be taken to improve reading skills.

“Based on research I’m an advocate of having full day kindergarten programs, before school programs, after school programs, a lot of parent involvement,” said Dr. Thacker.

Dean Michael Horvath agrees. “What we need to look at is the way we have been teaching certain children.”

Horvath contends, “There is a large percentage of children that do not get it, in the old ways, so we need to provide some alternatives for those children that we probably are not providing now.”

An Indiana senate committee Wednesday took testimony on the bill, but did not vote. One Senator expressed reservations about the cost of providing additional remediation to students who fail.

That cost is estimated to be between $17 and $23 million.

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