Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Legislative Priority #2: Early Intervention Block Grant

By the 2016-2017 school year, all students must be proficient readers.

It isn't just something that we are striving to achieve--or to make us feel good about our efforts at increasing reading proficiencies. It's the law. This was part of the massive education reform package that was passed during the 2012 General Assembly. Included in the Code of Iowa, section 256.7, paragraph one subsection 3 is the following:
Beginning May 1, 2017, unless the school district is granted a waiver pursuant to subsection 2 paragraph 'e', if the student's reading deficiency is not remedied by the end of grade three, as demonstrated by scoring on a locally determined or statewide assessment as provided in section 256.7 subsection 31, the school district shall notify the student's parent or guardian that the parent or guardian may enroll the student in an intensive summer reading program offered in accordance with subsection 2 paragraph 'e'. If the parent or guardian does not enroll the student in the intensive summer reading program and the student is ineligible for the good cause exemption under subsection 5, the student shall be retained in grade three pursuant to subsection 3.
If you read this, you may wonder what constitutes a waiver or exemption. Those waivers and exemptions are available for students who are served with an IEP or have another extenuating circumstance. The bottom line is that this legislation significantly raises the stakes for early readers.

When this bill was working its way through the process, there was quite a bit of debate about whether or not it was appropriate to mandate retention for students not reaching the benchmark. Interestingly, school leaders around the state were not in agreement about whether or not this was a good idea. But, for good or bad it no longer matters because it is the law.

My hope is that we are able to provide the appropriate remediation through the implementation of our PLC process in the school. If that is being implemented with fidelity, we should be able to appropriately answer the question, "What are we doing for those students who are not 'getting it'"? If that means intensive instruction outside of the normal reading class, then so be it. If it means additional resources, then absolutely. When those interventions are unsuccessful, we should implementing intensive summer reading programs (such as the UNI reading clinic). Obviously, retention should be used as a last resort.

The interesting point about this provision in the law was that the clock didn't start ticking until an appropriation was made. That appropriation was made during the 2013-2014 school year and was $8 Million. For Hudson, that was right around $17,372.48. Part of that funding is being used to implement our new early warning system known as FAST. For those of you that are parents of elementary students, you have probably heard your child's teacher talk about the DIBELS test. FAST replaces that tool. The remainder of that funding is being used to implement a new research based curriculum this year, known as Wonders. The price tag on this is in the neighborhood of $69,000+. So, it's safe to say that the $17,372 we received for last year, and roughly the same amount that we hope to receive this year will go a long way toward implementing this new curriculum. 

Following that implementation we will need to focus our efforts on strengthening our intensive reading program, providing robust and research based strategies for struggling readers, and in some cases even more intensive re-mediated instruction.

The bottom line here is that we support the continuation of programs currently funded by the early intervention block grant program with flexibility to use those funds for other K-3 literacy programs if approved by the board.

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