Reading law passed in 2013 enters final phase

Posted at 6:51 PM, Mar 25, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-28 10:34:46-04

At Westgate Elementary in Lakewood, first grade teacher Sarah Bardon knows which of her students are right on track with their reading, and which ones are struggling.  

"I have some students reading 120 words a minute and others who are reading five," Bardon said.

Those struggling students are the ones state lawmakers had in mind when they passed the "Reading to Ensure Academic Development" - or "READ" Act.  

In 2013, it replaced the Colorado Basic Literacy Act, bringing a new focus to students with serious reading deficiencies.  

Alisa Dorman, Executive Director of the state literacy office, says the law asks school districts to screen kids for their reading risk, and intervene on their behalf from kindergarten through third grade.  

That's the key year, because after third grade, kids have to be able to read to learn other things.

But what happens when a student reaches that age, and isn't reading well?  

Starting in the 2016-2017 school year, the law gives district superintendents the final say on whether or not to hold a child back if they're not making adequate progress.  

In the past, that decision has been left to the parent.

The READ Act does not require to hold students back, but they will have more authority on the matter. Still many educators believe holding a child back is never the right answer.  

Westgate Elementary School Principal David Weiss says there's plenty of research that shows it can actually do more harm to a student.

Weiss points out that students who are held back may see content they've already seen, leading to boredom and disengagement. He also says it can have a negative impact on their self esteem.  

His district, JEFFCO public schools, has already indicated it will not hold students back based on the READ Act.  

Other districts are making plans for how they'll address retention. (Additional information posted below.)

The state will be watching to see if any more children are subject to the retention discussion, as a result of the READ Act.  

In 2015, the office of literacy director says only 835 of more than 200,000 K-3 students in Colorado were retained. About 70 of them were third graders. 

Some students are exempt from the provisions of the READ Act: English language learners, students with disabilities, and those who have already been held back.

Adams 12 Five Star Schools:
Aurora Public Schools statement: "We are currently working on a revision to our process. It has not been completed yet," said Patti Moon, News Media Specialist.
Boulder Valley Public Schools:
Cherry Creek School District statement: "Our Board has a retention policy and we will continue to follow this as it relies on those closest to the child to collaborate on a decision.  We use a body of evidence, supported by conversation with parents and teachers,  the principal, as the superintendent’s designee, makes the final decision."
Englewood Schools statement: "We don't have a policy, but our plan is to let principals, teachers and parents look at a student's data to decide collaboratively the best next step. They will typically monitor the student's growth toward goals and decide based on that data whether retention or moving the student forward would be the best course of action," said Julie R. McGinley,
Communications Coordinator.
Poudre School District statement: "Retention decisions are not based solely on reading data alone. Rather decisions are made through the Multi-Tiered System of Support process and includes input from the Student Success Team, which is composed of teachers, interventionists, instructional specialists, and administrators, in collaboration with parents. This team considers a body of evidence when making instructional and placement decisions for students. The body of evidence includes assessment data, an analysis of the student’s academic growth in response to interventions, social-emotional information, and feedback from teachers."
Mesa County Valley officials said the elementary retention process is in compliance with components of the READ Act that require a process for considering retention for students who are not reading at grade level.