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Columbus Superintendent Defends Sweeping Reading Proficiency Changes

Shelves of books.

Columbus City Schools superintendent Talisa Dixon is defending a policy change that would put nearly every third grader on a reading improvement plan. 

The recent change raises the start-of-year proficiency score for Columbus third graders. All students falling below the new mark, or roughly 97% of those in the grade, will be put on an individualized reading improvement plan (RIMP).

That new, initial proficiency mark is actually higher than the figure needed for promotion to fourth grade.

Speaking on WOSU's All Sides with Ann Fisher on Thursday, Dixon said the idea is to ensure students have a strong foundation.

“The goal is to make sure that we are capturing more students earlier and providing the interventions that they need,” Dixon explained. “So when they move on to the next grade they’re not moving because of a promotion score, they are proficient readers.”

Critics of the plan, notably the teachers union, argue that forcing teachers to develop student-specific reading programs will take away from other instruction. Dixon said she understands the criticism, but argued she still sees teachers leading exciting

“Almost every Monday, I am in a school building, I’m still seeing amazing lessons happening in our elementary schools, so I don’t think it is hindering the majority of our teachers,” Dixon said.

Last year, Columbus City Schools earned a "D" in K-3 Reading portion on its report card. Of the nearly 5,400 students who began the year off track for their grade level, only 1,241 caught up to reading standards by the end of the school year.

The reading improvement plans are important, because the district doesn’t lose points on the report card for students who have one.

In an open letter, the union contends the ballooning number of RIMPs is only meant to avoid deductions on the state report card, and without additional support, teachers will be stretched too thin to adequately help those who really are falling behind.

Dixon acknowledged more support may be necessary, and committed to delivering it. She also said she would revisit the policy in the future.

Nick Evans was a reporter at WOSU's 89.7 NPR News. He spent four years in Tallahassee, Florida covering state government before joining the team at WOSU.