The way children are taught to read in Ohio is being rethought due to both new state laws around dyslexia and the impact of the spring 2020 shutdown on student reading achievement scores.
Across Ohio, third grade reading test scores fell after the 2020 school shutdown. In the 2021-2022 school year, 59.8% of third grade students tested proficient in reading, while in the 2018-2019 school year — the last one before the pandemic — 66.7% of third graders tested proficient in reading.
Proficient means that a student can read the words and understand what they mean.
Eighteen local school districts in the region — including urban, suburban and rural districts — saw third grade reading proficiency rates below the state average last year, according to a Dayton Daily News analysis of state data.
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Reading, and understanding what is being read, is a fundamental skill for both life and school.
“If you can read, you can drive. You can read a newspaper,” Shannon Cox, Montgomery County Education Services Center superintendent, said.
After third grade, students are expected to know how to read, and it becomes a crucial skill in older grades.
There are changes in the legislature around reading. In January 2021, the state passed a new law increasing screening for and addressing dyslexia in kindergarten through sixth grade. That law goes into effect next year.
The Ohio legislature is also considering a bill eliminating a current standard where third graders who do not pass a reading test are not promoted to fourth grade. The bill passed the Ohio House but hasn’t passed the Ohio Senate.
Lacey Snoke, spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Education, noted for the 2019-2020, 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 school years, the Ohio General Assembly passed pandemic-related emergency legislation making it so no school district or community school retained a third grade student based solely on the student’s score on Ohio’s State Test for third grade English language arts.
The state spends about $1.6 million annually to support literacy efforts. Snoke said the funding primarily supports regional staff, but also includes a dyslexia pilot grant and some ODE staff.
The state received several federal grants to support literacy improvement over the last five years and is leveraging some one-time federal COVID relief funds to support schools and districts as well. The federal support for literacy improvement is significantly more than the state support.
The State Board of Education recently voted to recommend new state funding of $44.7 million beginning in 2023 and $36.4 million beginning in 2024 over current levels to support statewide literacy efforts, including professional development, coaching, high-quality instructional materials, and access to early childhood education.
Giving extra support
Last year, 27.3% of third graders at Jefferson Twp. schools scored proficient in reading. This was the smallest percentage in the region.
Blairwood Elementary Principal Anne Watson said the district takes reading skills seriously, and uses a curriculum the state recommends and several other area schools use.
“All students in the district are assessed multiple times throughout the year to monitor progress and inform decisions for instruction,” Watson said.
If a student needs more reading support, the district intervenes and works with families to get the student to where they need to be, Watson said, and tutoring services are available for students.
The highest score in the area was from Oakwood City Schools, which had 92.3% of their students score proficient on the English language arts test last year.
Centerville has among the highest third grade reading proficiency scores in the area. The district had 78.9% of third graders score proficient in English Language Arts last year, significantly higher than the state average of 59.8% proficient.
Cherie Colopy, Centerville’s elementary curriculum director, said the district is adding curriculum components and reviewing its materials on how to teach children to read to ensure they comply with new state laws.
The district’s Ohio state testing results have gone up since a dip in the 2020-2021 scores, she noted. But Colopy also said Centerville’s scores follow a statewide trend where poorer districts do worse than wealthier districts on state test scores.
“I would like to say that it’s because we have excellent teachers who are doing an excellent job, but it is the makeup of our community,” Colopy said.
A new approach
Vanisa Turney, preschool principal and kindergarten through third grade literacy curriculum supervisor in Huber Heights, said her district has changed its strategic approach to reading.
“We are learning that research shows that some of the practices that we engaged in in the past are just not effective,” Turney said. “So this helped us to realize how we can take more of a strategic structural approach to teaching reading.”
Now, kids as young as preschool are learning to differentiate sounds and understand how words are formed, she said. Huber Heights has more than 170 preschool students in their public school district.
“We can’t just dive in and teach kids how to read,” Turney said. “They have to be able to identify and manipulate individual sounds that are in a spoken language.”
The amount of work the district is doing is intense, Turney said. Teachers were working over the summer and have so far done 12 out of 18 hours of professional development that teachers need before next year.
The district’s third grade reading proficiency scores are below the state average, with 53.5% of Huber Heights third graders considered proficient in English language arts last school year. Turney said she believes the new approach to reading could help many students who are struggling