More Southern Arizona students at risk of being held back

New assessment policy could result in more students being retained
KOLD News 6-6:30 p.m. recurring
Published: Jun. 7, 2022 at 7:33 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - More Southern Arizona students are now at risk of being held back.

The number of third graders who could be retained has doubled in some districts.

It’s all because of a new reading policy that’s in play. State law makes it mandatory to retain 3rd graders if they’re reading well below grade level.

There are exceptions, but starting this year at risk students not only have to complete summer school, they have to pass an assessment showing they’re ready to enter fourth grade.

As KOLD reported months ago, the Sunnyside superintendent had expected the count to grow so the district is by no means surprised.

It’s right back to class for this group of third graders.

This is one of eight summer school sessions at various schools designed to get struggling readers past the Move on When Reading threshold.

It’s Lily Del Valle’s goal. She’s taught third and fourth grade for 13 years.

“To be honest, some of them, I don’t think they were aware that they did not pass a test and some of them were aware because their parents told them,” she said.

So how many didn’t pass compared to 2019?

72 third graders didn’t meet the threshold this year just about double the pre-pandemic count.

After allowed exemptions the number of eligible students drops to 47, which is more than double the count in 2019.

It’s exactly what Carmen Castro expected.

“So were were very upfront with our school board and so that they would know this was coming,” Castro said.

Castro is the district’s Literacy director.

She says despite individualized instruction, tutoring, and online interventions throughout the school year, it was a challenge for some students to return to the classroom full-time.

“Very different than being at home and having online experiences. And so the stamina of being in a classroom all day had to be rebuilt,” she said.

Superintendent Steve Holmes said students came into the classroom facing pretty big deficits caused by pandemic disruptions.

“Although these third graders did receive some education prior, it’s still you’re missing huge gaps in the reading process. And so we’re coming back coupled with some new policy change. And my big concern was can we catch these students up to make sure they are not on the list for failure,” Holmes explained.

So what does Castro predict when the summer session ends?

She believes about 2 thirds will manage to get past the state threshold.

“I do believe a third of of our students will be eventually retained,” she said.

Another high poverty district seeing double the count is Nogales.

21 did not reach the Move on When Reading score this year compared to 10 in 2019.

After allowed exemptions, the number of eligible students drops to 16, which is about triple the count in 2019.

“It’s similar when you think about district in high poverty. Certainly those gaps get more exacerbated because sometimes a lot of our students start behind. And so exacerbated with a pandemic and new standards,” Holmes said.

That seems to hold true checking with other Southern Arizona districts outside the poverty range.

They report no real change in students who haven’t reached the reading threshold, except Marana.

The district reports 16 at risk this year compared to five in 2019.

Right now Del Valle has a big hill to climb with the struggling readers, but she’s planned for this.

“I notice that a lot of our kids were missing vowels,” she said.

So she’s using a strategy designed to develop reading fluency called Readers Theatre.

“We know that we need to practice fluency,” Del Valle said, “So we’re incorporating Readers’ Theatre to make sure that they’re practicing it. They’re setting their own goals and so that they can see their own progress.”

The Sunnyside third graders will be tested June 16.

We’re still waiting for possible retention counts from Tucson Unified. It’s the only district that hasn’t given us counts yet, including this year’s graduation rates.

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