Young Arizona students can now be held back: Parents have no say
Reporter: Valerie Cavazos
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - If you have a young child in school in Arizona, hang on to your hat. You could be in for a shock. The state has taken a big decision about your child's education out of your hands.
Starting this year, if third grade students flunk (scoring Far Below) the reading portion of their AIMS test, they'll have to repeat the grade. They cannot move on with their classmates to fourth grade.
No excuses. No debate. No parental intervention.
Bethany Scrimshaw is a third grader at La Paloma Academy. She knows she can be held back -- her teacher has told all of the students in her class.
KGUN9 reporter Valerie Cavazos asked Betheny. "Do you read well?" She answered, "Yes."
Cavazos asked her if she was worried at all. She replied, "No, not really."
Bethany does read well, but the state's law dubbed "Move On When Reading" weighs on her mother's mind. Karen Scrimshaw said she understands why parents may not want their kids held back.
"Starting at probably third grade, I think kids are more conscious of those things so it's more devastating for them," Scrimshaw said.
"But I think it's more devastating for the parents, which is why so many parents in the past just allowed the kids to move up in higher grades because they don't want that stigma attached to them or their child."
But starting this year, what parents want is not a factor. Scrimshaw supports the state's decision to not to leave this choice up to parents.
"They don't think about necessarily the future of what that holds for the child if they don't meet those standards," she said.
She's referring to the state and national standards that are becoming more and more rigorous -- in every core subject -- each year.
La Paloma Academy principal William Rubasch said school administrators have to push teachers -- to push their students -- beyond their expectations at every grade level.
Cavazos asked Rubasch: "This is a big paradigm shift in the schools, isn't it?" He answered, "It's huge."
Bethany's teacher, Caroline Marvin, explained the change in the third grade classrooms.
"Nowadays in college, the level of text that students are expected to read and understand has gone up as technology has changed. And so kids need to be able to read at a younger age, informational text and understand it."
Cavazos asked Marvin: "So you're already preparing kids for college in third grade?"
Cavazos: "So that's the point?"
Teacher: "That's the point, yes."
But the new high-stakes reading mandate concerns teachers -- like Caroline Marvin. Cavazos asked her how many of her students are in the danger zone.
"I would say about a fourth or a fifth," Marvin said.
That's about the same percentage in Victoria Barajas' class at Esperanza Elementary -- a school with a lot of English Language Learners.
Cavazos: "What does this mean for the teacher?"
Teacher: "Well, you know, there's been pressure on teachers for awhile. There's more asked of you. There's always been limited time so there is pressure in that you've got to get a lot done in a small amount of time."
To meet the higher reading demands, Esparanza's principal Emma Carrillo said she's added more professional development and curriculum support for teachers.
"The new law has been in place for years," Carrillo said. "I think we reinvented ourselves and we've provided professional development for our teachers. Our teachers plan with other teachers during the day, observe other teachers, and get feedback."
But as the schools gear up -- what about the parents?
Cavazos asked Carrillo, "They're not going to be given any passes this time. There isn't any option any more. Do you think they truly understand that?" She answered, "I'm not sure it's the level of understanding. I think the word needs to go out and be informed. It's the information the parents need to have."
Information like what parents need to do to help is important. Barajas said, "The children who do best are the children who are regularly reading at home." She said they do better in science, social studies and math.
"So reading is an area of the curriculum where if the child has a strong foundation, they and their parents are really setting themselves up for success," Barajas said. "So who doesn't do well? Those kids who are only reading when they are at school."
La Paloma Academy teacher Caroline Marvin said, "With the parents and teachers and administrators all coming together because it does take a community to raise a child -- with all that extra support -- I do believe the students can raise up to the level they need to be."
Rubasch said that La Paloma Academy teachers are trying to work with the families so students are not kept back.
"We have data-driven instruction," Rubasch said. "So whether we're using the AIMS data or using our own formative assessments that we use all year long to assess where our childrens' reading abilities are, we are using those pieces of data to really drive the instruction and drive the interventions if the children need it."
But if they don't and they flunk the AIMS reading test, they have no choice but to go back to third grade. Rubasch said, "So it's going to be involved for us to have some very unfortunate phone calls in June and July -- if that comes up."
Both school principals say teachers do inform parents throughout the school year if their third graders are struggling in reading.
The two teachers suggest that parents of younger children should also pay close attention because it could take years for students to become good readers. They recommend that parents should call their schools if they have any questions or concerns.
The state does provide for exemptions under certain circumstances -- primarily for special needs students.