Deputy Superintendent Trelstad enjoys the extensive collaboration with other professionals, parents, and community leaders that her professional positions have afforded her. Of particular interest is assisting teachers with curriculum consistency, integrating technology, utilizing data to assess each child’s response to instruction, and professional learning communities to improve instructional practice and student learning. She is also deeply motivated by making certain that the uniqueness of all students is recognized and embraced so that each can reach his or her fullest potential.
We reached out to Superintendent Trelstad to get her opinion on HB 5111. We summarized HB 5111 in a previous post:
Currently the decision of whether to promote a student is made at the local level by teachers, principles and other professionals that know a child and have an understanding of his/her abilities and the larger context his/her daily existence. A bill under consideration in the Michigan Legislature would mandate that any student who doesn't pass a standardized reading test would fail third grade. [House Bill would require schools to flunk 3rd graders, Okemos Parents for Schools, November 9, 2013. ]Deputy Superintendent Trelstad answered the following questions via email.
Q: What was your initial reaction when you learned about HB 5111?
A: I was surprised and then saddened that this legislation would be considered in our state given the extensive research that exists on the topic of grade retention. It is also troubling that legislation is put forward without consulting with the educational experts that might better inform these decisions.
Q: There is some intuitive appeal to tying promotion from 3rd grade to an objective benchmark like a score on a standardized reading test. Do you see problems with this approach?
A: Those of us who work with children on a daily basis know the limitations of utilizing one assessment measure to determine the full picture of a student’s academic skills. Given the complexity of reading and the multiple skills that are involved in becoming a fluent reader, it is critical that we use multiple measures to assess a student’s on-going growth and development.
Q: Why would you promote a student from 3rd grade if they were not reading at a 3rd grade level?
A: As the research suggests, it is not grade retention or social promotion that make a difference for students who are lagging in reading development. The best approach to addressing the continued reading growth of students is through a multi-tiered system of support that provides targeted, consistent, and intensive interventions, specific to each child’s needs.
Q: Strictly from the perspective of what's best for the student, what would be the ideal process for determining whether a student is promoted to fourth grade?
A: There are times when grade retention is appropriate for specific students. This decision should be made after extensive collaboration between the student’s parents and the professional educators who know the child best and can consider all of the variables that contribute to on-going success.
Q: Do you think HB 5111 reflects an understanding of the current thinking about how children learn to read?
A: Absolutely not! Decisions that affect the rest of a child’s life should not be based on one test, at one moment in time. As I mentioned before, there are so many factors that go into learning to read.
Q: Describe what Okemos Public Schools does now to monitor the progress of individual students as they learn to read?
A: We utilized a nationally-normed universal screening instrument to monitor the progress of all students in grades K-8 three times each year. This screening instrument measure early literacy skills in K-1(phonemic awareness, alphabetic principle, letter and sound fluency), and oral fluency (grades 1-8), and reading comprehension (grades 3-8). These measures are used in conjunction with other common, district assessments to place students into flexible groupings to facilitate their on-going reading development. The students with intense needs are provided with daily, targeted interventions in addition to the core reading instruction to accelerate their growth. The progress of students with intense needs is assessed weekly and the interventions are adjusted as necessary to promote more growth.
Q: Describe what mechanisms OPS has in place to help students who are falling behind?
A: All students receive core instruction in their classrooms with age-appropriate peers. In addition, students who have been identified with strategic or intensive needs in reading are provided with interventions that target skill areas where their performance is below the benchmark. Our teachers meet regularly to look at student assessments, monitor student growth, adjust groupings of students, and plan instructional strategies that may yield positive outcomes for students. We begin this process when students are in kindergarten and follow a student’s growth throughout their school career.
Q: If a student is struggling to read as they complete third grade, does OPS have mechanisms in place to help them catch up through 4th grade?
A: We don’t wait until students are in third grade, but rather monitor student growth in reading throughout each year. We have systems in place to address student reading needs whenever the established benchmarks are not met on universal screeners or common assessments that are given in all of our elementary schools.
Q: If HB 5111 becomes law, what positives/negatives will OPS students experience?
A: The biggest negative is that teachers and parents will be forced to retain students who might be negatively affected in the long-term by such a decision. There are no positives that I can see.
Q: Proponents of HB 5111 might argue it doesn't make sense to promote a student out of third grade if they haven't learned all third grade has to offer, and might worry that without a measure like HB 5111, schools will simply pass a student along without anyone being accountable for the student's progress. How would you answer?
A: I would express, yet again, that it is not grade retention or social promotion that makes a difference for students who are not “typically developing” as readers. It is frequent assessments, targeted and intensive interventions, adjustments to instruction, and knowledgeable educators who work in tandem with parents that can make the difference.
Q: What is the downside to retaining a student in 3rd grade?
A: Retaining students can have a number of negative consequences that aren’t realized until children are older. The one thing that we can’t possibly anticipate is a child’s physical, social, emotional, and cognitive growth into the future. When children are retained at a young age it may yield positive, but short-term outcomes. As that same child reaches adolescence, they may be significantly out-of-sync with their classmates…physically, socially, emotionally and/or academically. This may place them at greater risk during a particularly tumultuous time of their lives.
Q: Do you think there is one policy regarding retention that makes sense for all Michigan schools (big, medium, small; rural, suburban, urban)?
A: This “one size fits all” policy, dictated by Michigan law would be inappropriate and ineffective for grade retention. As mentioned previously, the responsibility for making decisions about grade retention should held by the parents and educators of the individual students being considered.
Q: If the Legislature asked you what it could do to help kids read satisfactorily by the end of third grade, what would you say?
A: The legislature might consider providing more funding for the things that can truly make differences…instructional coaches, staff to deliver interventions, software to track and analyze student achievement data, intervention materials, and summer programming. They could set the expectation that each district establish a multi-tiered system of support for all students and provide adequate funding to accomplish it.