Retained students may move ahead in January

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For the first time, students who have been retained in grades 3, 6 and 8 will retake the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills in January and be promoted if they meet cutoff scores.

Last year, only 8th-graders enrolled in high school transition centers (students 15 and older) were given the opportunity mid-year to move ahead. Those who were successful began taking freshman-level courses.

This year, 8th-graders retained in elementary school (students 14 and younger) will be allowed to begin taking high school courses in transition centers if they hit the test targets in January.

For 3rd- and 6th-graders, the practical impact of a mid-year promotion will vary from school to school.

Some schools had so many retainees that they were assigned to small classes of their own—the board supplied 150 additional teachers to such schools. In those schools, children may stay with the same teacher. In some cases, according to William McGowan of the Office of Schools and Regions, those classes already were working on the curriculum for the next grade.

At schools without small classes for retainees, promoted students may switch classes but get tutoring. “We’re not going to just dump them into a classroom without help,” says McGowan. Already, 325 retired teachers are tutoring in these schools, working with three retained students at a time for an hour each day. The board expects to recruit another 150 retirees shortly.

The board also has sent 150 college students to tutor in grades 3, 6, and 8 at 150 schools. This year the board-funded Lighthouse program will pay 879 teachers for after-school programs at those benchmark grades.

McGowan says the board is eager to promote retained students who can meet requirements, especially those who are repeating a grade for the third time. “They are our absolute first priority.”

Some principals don’t foresee any serious problems for students switching classes mid-year. At Boone Elementary in West Ridge, for example, many teachers stay with a group of students for two years. Retained students promoted mid-year would therefore rejoin their former teachers as well as their former classmates.

“I know the kids look forward to the possibility of being promoted,” says Boone Principal Paul Zavitkovsky. “Kids ask me, ‘Is there a way I can still get back with my friends?’ That’s what we need to keep the kids motivated.”

However, he notes that students moving up mid-year will have missed a semester’s worth of material. “Just because you’ve got a score on the ITBS doesn’t mean you know the curriculum.” Boone will draw on the expertise of retired teacher tutors the board provided to catch students up. “I’m really pleased with the resource,” he says.

The needs of any students who fail to meet promotion requirements for a third time next August will be met on a case-by-case basis, according to McGowan. Twice-retained students are already being screened for learning disabilities, he says.