The Weekly Newspaper serving the citizens of Morenci, Mich., Fayette, Ohio, and surrounding areas.

  • Front.cheers
    MACEE BEERS joins other Fayette Elementary School students for the annual Mini-Cheer performance during the half-time break at the basketball game.
  • Family.3.wide
    CHILDREN at Stair District Library’s Family Story Time toss scarves into the air during an activity. The evening program provided a mix of stories, songs, dancing, crafts and snacks Monday evening. The program is offered at 5:30 p.m. every Monday for five more weeks. The program is designed for three to five year olds and their family.
  • Front.newpaper.2
    THE INTERVIEW—Evelyn Joughin (right) records the interaction with an iPad while Jack Varga, next to her, asks questions of Morenci Elementary School principal Gail Frey. Morenci senior Sam Cool (standing) listens. Cool serves as the editor for the newspaper written by members of Mrs. Barrett’s second grade class.
  • Front.code.2
    WRITING CODE—Brock Christle (left), a Morenci fifth grade student, takes a look at the progress being made by fourth grader Anthony Lewis. Libby Rorick, a sixth grade student, is next in a line of girls trying out the coding tutorials. This year marked Morenci’s second year of participation in the Hour of Code project.
  • Front.skelton.vigil
    MORENCI’S three Skelton brothers were remembered with both tears and laughter last week during a candlelight vigil at Wakefield Park. Several people came out of the crowd to give their recollection of the boys who have now been missing for five years.
  • Front.gym.new
    REMIE RYAN (left) tries to dodge the foam wand held by Hayden Bays during physical education class at Morenci Elementary School. In the background, Lauryn Dominique and Brooklyn Williams stay clear of the tag. Second grade students were working on cardiovascular health on the first day back from vacation. For the record, Safety Tag is a very difficult sport to photograph.
  • Front.lift
    MORENCI student Dalton McCowan puts everything into a dead lift attempt Saturday morning during the Wyseguy Push/Pull event. Lifters helped raise more than $1,600 for the family of the late Devin Wyse, a former Morenci power-lifter who graduated last year. Commemorative T-shirts are still available by contacting teacher Dan Hoffman.

Ohio's Third Grade Promise 2012.10.31

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

Parents of Fayette's kindergarten through third grade students should have received a letter from elementary school principal/superintendent Erik Belcher this week, informing them of the progress their student is making in reading skills.

Parents were notified their student is either "on track" or "not on track" to meet state standards—standards with big consequences. Through the new Third Grade Reading Promise from Ohio Gov. John Kasich and legislators, students must attain a minimum passing score on the new reading achievement test in the spring or they will be retained in third grade. The new law takes effect in the 2013-14 school year, making this year's second grade students the first to face the threat of retention. The policy does not apply to non-public charter schools.

The new effort might sound familiar to some parents and educators due to its similarity to Ohio's Fourth Grade Guarantee put into place more than 10 years ago. There is one major difference: Some loopholes regarding retention were attached to the 1997 legislation; this time there are very few exceptions and parents have no say in the matter.

Belcher expects some parents won't be pleased with the news about retentions and he wants them to know the decision didn't originate at the school.

"This isn't coming from us," he said. "It's from legislators passing laws."

The letters sent to parents list services the school currently provides to improve reading skills, plus additional instructional services that will be made available to a child who is not on track.

These services, and other tenets of the Third Grade Promise have actually been part of Fayette's reading instruction for years, Belcher said.

For example, the new law requires that students' reading skills are tested at the start of the school year, something the school has done for years and, in fact, does three times a year. Progress is monitored throughout the school year. 

A plan must be established for students who are not on track and parent involvement is encouraged—as it has been in the past. Teachers want good communication with parents, however, parents will not be able to fight retention if ordered.

Exceptions to retention can be granted for special education students who have an individualized education program (IEP) and also for some students who speak English as a second language. 

Belcher said the parents of about half of the students received letters indicating their child could be in danger of retention. He figures that's probably on the high side, but he doesn't want the news to come as a shock at the end of the school year.

He also thinks the number is high for another reason: Some children experience a loss of progress over the summer if they aren't reading at home. However, the state requires an assessment by Sept. 30, followed by a notification to parents. He also expects many children to progress through the year and lose their "not on track" status.

The district is using federal Title II funds to pay a teacher at the substitute rate to work on reading skills with second grade students and others in small groups.

"We're trying to work a year ahead," he said, "as we count down to next year."

Starting in 2013-14, teachers who work with students who are having reading problems will be required to obtain a special endorsement through additional study.

The idea behind the legislation is the belief that mastery of reading by third grade is essential for success in other subjects. Several states now have third grade reading standards in place, but not all of them have the same retention rule.

Like many educators, Belcher isn't a fan of forced retention.

"Research shows that one of the worst things you can do is to hold them back," he said. "It can scar a student. I can handle change and higher standards, but I can't handle hurting children. I think it's morally wrong."

In reviewing retention policies in two other states, the Education Commission of the States published a paper in March of this year stating that retention policies create a sense of urgency in efforts to improve reading skills, but cautioned that retention should not be the first and only step taken.

Early identification and intervention are seen as more likely to improve student performance, the paper concluded, and suggested an expansion of quality pre-kindergarten programs. States with the most success, whether retention was used or not, focus on small class size and intensive, personalized help.

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