Arizona law holds back students who can't read by 3rd grade - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Arizona law holds back students who can't read by 3rd grade

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Posted: Thursday, July 28, 2011 10:43 am

In less than two years, a group of young Arizona students must show they can read or risk being held back a grade.

That group is this year's first-graders. State lawmakers passed legislation - dubbed "move on when reading" - in 2010 that requires them to demonstrate proficiency on the reading portion of Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards in spring 2013.

There are four possible scores on the AIMS test: exceeds, meets, approaches, or falls far below the standard. Students who exceed or meet the standard, pass the test. Under the new law, if a student receives the lowest rating - falls far below - he or she will not be promoted to fourth grade, though there are a few possible exceptions and appeals.

It's really a small percentage of students right now looking at the most recent AIMS scores.

Chandler, for instance, saw only 2 percent of all its third-graders fall far below standards on the spring AIMS exam. Gilbert, Kyrene, Queen Creek and Higley school districts saw the same percentage of students at that level.

Mesa Unified School District had 4 percent of all its third-graders at that level, and Tempe Elementary School District had 5 percent.

Suzie DePrez, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in the Mesa district, said a letter was sent home to parents of the students last year when they were kindergartners.

The district actually started a new program - Mesa Reads - several years ago that's proving successful for students. It includes instruction, intervention and accountability, DePrez said.

"If a student is struggling in reading, (the third-grade AIMS test) is not going to be the first time the parents have heard this. We have a system of interventions to help students get what they need to meet the expectations of reading in kindergarten, first grade and second grade. By the time they get to third grade if there has been a problem, we will have been working with the parents for many semesters to help them intervene," she said.

Tempe Elementary students at all grade levels spend a minimum of 90 minutes a day working on reading, said Christine Trujillo, the district's director of curriculum, instruction and assessment.

"We're still going to meet the needs of every child. We're still going to have the expectation that all children will be on grade level at every level of the school," she said.

The district's reading program includes "whole group" instruction (all students are taught at once) in phonemic awareness, phonics, comprehension and fluency. During small groups, students learn the reading process and work on any deficit skills.

"We monitor our students to see if they're progressing. If they're not, we give them the proper intervention," she said.

Even students who are at the high end of reading for their grade level may receive special instruction.

Arizona's charter schools must also meet the requirements of the state law.

Terri Lymer, curriculum director for Gilbert's Edu-Prize School, said the school is "vigilant in assessing our children and benchmarking them and making sure they are where they need to be."

All of Edu-Prize's third-graders passed the AIMS test last year.

The school puts an emphasis on writing to help the students learn reading, and students at all grade levels set a goal to read 100 hours outside the classroom during the school year, she said.

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