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Proposal to require passage of 3rd grade reading test not popular, legislators told

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By Lauris Olson

(Nov. 21, 2011 – 11:15 a.m.)  Veteran teachers Nancy Peterson and Elise Wright disagree with the Iowa Department of Education’s proposal to only grant teaching certificates to new teachers earning a 3.0 or better grade point average and to hold back elementary students who can’t read at the third grade level.

The proposed rules, they said, don’t reflect the realites of the profession or the classroom.

‘They want to raise the bar from what college students are supposed to obtain as a grade point average, but just because you are smart doesn’t mean you are going to be a good teacher,” said Peterson.

“In fact, if you are smart, you may not make a good teacher. Sometimes you have to have been there.”

A passion for teaching, as well as a strong sense of survival, are better indicators of who will be successful in the classroom, Peterson said.

Peterson, a Gilbert High School social studies teacher with 27 years experience and Wright, a Fellows Elementary School of Ames 5th grade and special education teacher with 32 years experience, spoke Saturday as part of a listening session organized by state representatives Lisa Heddens (Dist. 46, Ames – D) and Beth Wesse3l-Kroeschell (Dist. 45, Ames – D).  They were joined by state Sen. Herman Quirmbach (Dist.23,  Ames – D).

About a dozen people attended the session to tell the legislators what they thought of Governor Terry Branstad’s “Blueprint for Education, One Unshakable Vision: World-Class Schools For Iowa.”  Branstad and Jason Glass, director of the Iowa Department of Education (DOE), released the plan in October. Legislators will be asked to approve it when they convene for the 2012 session.

Peterson said that she herself had been there, as a child who read slowly, often needing to go over lines of text two or three times.

“I tested well in spelling but didn’t do well on those timed reading tests,“ she said. “My learning style was one that fills the prisons. I was a difficult student.  Now I reach workshops during the summer to teachers who are coming back for recertification. I teach discipline, motivation, designing lessons plans to meet the needs of all students.

“If you did a study of kids who drop out, I think you would find that their learning style needs were never met and so they leave, because who wants to be constantly failing.”

Wright, who has five children, has been through the experience herself. She thinks it should be left up to the parents, not state law.

“I am somewhat concerned about the punitive aspects when you talk about retaining students in third grade,” said Wright.  “You set up the school and the teacher at the same time you set the child up for failure.

“We made the decision to hold back two or our kids in kindergarten. But it was a choice we made as parents, not that the school made or the school and teachers made. The teachers supported us, which I felt was really important to me as a parent. Their message was that I believed it would help my children.”

Wright said that mandatorily holding a student back sends a different message.

“I think it would be different if the message is that you need to meet the standard and you didn’t, so you are going to punished.”

Parent Helen Blituch, who has a child attending Fellows Elementary School, feels the mandatory reading test requirement for third graders doesn’t meet the underlying reasons some children fail. 

“What difference is it to make a student repeat a grade if you use the learning styles again?” she said. “I think it needs to be a really strong phonics base and it needs to be systematically approached throughout the grades.”

Blituch’s child has the reading disorder dyslexia, she said. She believes the education reforms should require teachers to be certified in the subjects they teach, especially reading.

While the proposed blueprint for education allows alternative testing models for students with diagnosed learning disabilities, parent Amy Bleyle, feels passage of a third grade reading test before advancing further will still hurt some students.

Bleyle has five children in the Ames School District. She pointed out that only children whose parents have intervened and had them tested would be able to take advantage of the alternatives.

“My concern is for the kids who parents aren’t there to advocate for them,” said Bleyle. “You have to have an official diagnosis. Also, it doesn’t address the kids who aren’t reading at grade level because they don’t have the support at home. I don’t like the arbitrariness of saying ‘You don’t read.’ “

Peterson and Wright want those developing the new “blueprint” to spend time in classrooms before putting their education reform proposal before the legislature.

“I am blessed at Gilbert,” said Peterson. “We have a very low [number of students who qualify for] free and reduced lunch. Kids come to school wanting to learn and the parents are interested. It isn’t that way everywhere.

Wright said the situation was different for some teachers in Ames.

“There are kids coming to school that are living in cars and we are supposed to assist them in finding out what happened in the war of 1812,” said Wright. “They are interested in the peanut butter sandwich they may get at lunchtime. And there are more of these children than most imagine.”

Thank you again Mr. Governor

Just another instance of the Governor's chosen people being out of touch.

First, just because you happen to have a 3.0 in any degree program does not insure you will be proficient in any profession. There is no standardization across all schools that grant degrees, so a 3.0 is as arbitrary as asking for only left-handed teachers. But you must be smarter than all of those college administrators who grant the degree with a 2.0.

Second, yes it is important to be able to meet the minimum requirements, but creating a standadized test in 3rd grade will be as much of an indicator of knowledge as an exit exam for graduating high school.

There is absolutely now conclusive studies that show either of these proposals do anything but add more administrative duties to teachers that should be free to teach.

Last, I was one of those with a Bachelor's degree with a sub-par grade point average and I some how ended up get a couple of graduate degrees. I guess I should have just given up and went to work in another field, under your proposal I would have needed to.

Come on we do not need another version of No Child Left Behind.

Change is sometimes reform

I taught in Ames for 33 years. The most effective English teacher I ever taught with was, herself, only a "C" student in public school but had the passion and compassion to be an outstanding educator. Those qualities are hard, indeed, to measure... GPA is a weak indicator, at best, of likely success as a teacher.

The fact that the above writer has earned multiple graduate degrees and still can clearly put together a grammatically-correct sentence does make one wonder about the validity of "higher education's" degrees, themselves, doesn't it?

from Thank You

I wonder if I should be offended? If I had known my post was going to be graded I would have put more than a few seconds into proofreading it.

On a side note, I love that Ames News Online allows for this type of comment posting and has not acquiesced to the hollow Facebook world.

So thank you "Change" for making the commenting worth the effort!!!!!

to above

I agree with some of what you say but there has to be a set of criteria for selection.

a different perspective

Requiring a student to be able to read before moving them on to 4th grade isn't that unreasonable - if it's followed up with the intensive instruction and help to get the child back on track. Sending students on to the middle school and high school without the needed reading skills is just setting them up for failure.


I'm not sure that the 3.0 is the right way to go, because a 3.0 at one college or university may be very different from that 3.0 at another. Simple intellect does not necessarily make a great teacher, a point that was made very well by previous posters. Performance in the practicums and student teaching should carry a lot of weight.

The most successful countries only accept the best students into teaching programs. Excellence is assured and the children succeed. In those countries, the teaching profession is something to aspire to. The importance is placed on the learning of the children rather than on issues that should be incidental. The United States has many fine teachers but in general they can't compete with some countries because too many other things get in the way. Teachers want more money, yet are not performing as well as they used to. U.S. teachers make excuses that wouldn't even occur to teachers from other countries.

U.S. teachers spend much of their time aping the politics of their superintendent because they feel threatened if they don't. Many U.S. teachers won't work a minute past their contractual time. The yearly hours of actual instructional time in the US have declined dramatically and are far fewer than successful countries. U.S. teachers are not always held to the same standards of conduct in the schools and community that others are. Please read surveys of the amount of time US teachers gripe about their classroom size, "inconveniences" caused by pullouts and in the midwest about "those" kids and why do they have to deal with "them".

There are many teachers in the US who are truly a gift, but there are far too many who resent those who are successful and bully those caring ones who dare to speak out. This is not a communist country and teachers should not all be treated the same. The bad ones have got to go, while the good ones need to be rewarded.

Most importantly, the US needs to recognize this as the most important occupation of all and train only the best to educate our children. If the ones chosen for teacher education prove to be ineffective as teachers, they need to be let go.

Teachers in the United States have a wall of silence, which enables many of them to get away with student abuse. Teachers caught not reporting abuse and not reporting bad teaching which is a form of neglect, should be prosecuted if they don't report abuse(physical, sexual,or emotional) and fired if they don't turn in a teacher who is hurting students because she can't teach.

Teachers in the US need to speak up and say what they need for the children.Anything else is neglect.

I do not see a problem with holding a 3rd grade child back if he or she cannot "read to learn" which is a necessity for fourth grade. Too many children in Ames get passed to the middle school with no reading skills. In an affluent school, teachers may not have experience with 3rd graders who can't read and are behind because of their impoverished homes. Maybe teachers at Fellows have met resistance from the influential parents who didn't want their children held back.

Please let everyone know how you would solve the problem of kids getting to middle school and not being able to read.

Is there a chance that someday teachers in Ames and elsewhere will ALL think of a child's future rather that feel relief that "she isn't my problem anymore?" Is there a chance that Ames teachers will get over shiny new and big and look at what research shows to be the best way to teach our most challenged due to poverty?

Will Ames teachers realize that the solution lies within each and everyone of them and if they were given the chance to show their stuff, without instructional strategists breathing down their backs and certain professional development that shows them what they already knew and would like to have the time to do ? Will Ames teachers realize how wonderful they are and demand that they get the chance to to do what they do best-TEACH-not unless they stand up. Not unless they stand up and say that they can and will do whatever it takes and not unless they are willing to help get rid of the ones who are leeches to the taxpayers and harmful to the children.

Your few good points

. . .are buried under vast generalizations and sanctimony. Please examine your obsession with teachers' and their supposed flaws. We have some of the best in the country here in Ames and yet there are those like you who derive pleasure from tearing them down at any opportunity.

Is it as simple as you feel superior to them? Making your sanctimony and scolding a form of bullying? It sure seems like it. Clearly, you have no understanding of what goes on in a K-12 classroom firsthand, or you would not be making swipes at teachers, and your favorite punching bag, Fellows, where what those teachers know about needy, under-performing children would put you to shame.

To 'your few good points'

if you're referring to above poster, I took from it that there are so many obstacles to being able to show your true worth, which is great. I think it would be helpful to list the points that are inaccurate so we can be educated.
unfortunately, overcoming the obstacles mentioned won't be easy but if you do it in force, you'll accomplish what we all want-making sure that all kids get to benefit from our good teachers. A vast majority of Ames teachers are the best, but the others must be weeded out.

The 3.0 comment: Getting a 3.0 may or may not be an indicator of teaching success, but it shows a commitment to one's studies.

In all fairness, I have heard that bullying goes on in our elementary schools by a small number of teachers.


Most education classes are very easy, likely easier than much of the course work undertaken by Ames High students.As one poster said, there have to be criteria and schools that are hiring cannot assume that the applicant wit a lower than 3 average will probably be great in the classroom. Yes, there will be some student teaching data, but the structure in place for student teachers can vary widely from classroom to classroom so a comparison is hard.

I support a 3.0and above GPA and I support tougher admission standards to colleges with the hope that it will lead to more respect for the profession. There is no reason that we shouldn't have teachers who are both book smart and excellent at connecting with and educating children.

To above thank you

I sense from your tone that you care a lot and if you are a teacher you're fabulous.

The above poster was a bit harsh but all teachers and all parents need an eye opener.

I have had children in the system for many years and they have had many wonderful teachers. Teaching was a calling for these fine people and they deserve the utmost respect. I have dealt with a few of the bad ones and the damage they do can be permanent.

It is frustrating to see the bad ones stay and the good ones not take a stand. If you are afraid of retaliation, find someone you trust, not necessarily an employee, and talk it through. You will be surprised at those who will stand up for you very actively if they knew what you need.

I can't imagine being one of the great ones who care about each and every child and move heaven and earth to help children overcome leaning issues, family issues etc. and know that some just don't care and are actually man to some children..

I know it's a tough environment to express concerns, but it's essential for the sake of the children. Talk to someone. The possibilities are great.

Tp parents-don't go about your lives as though everything is ok because YOUR kids are fine. Offer support to others and speak up when something seems wrong. You can preach all you want about volunteerism and being good citizens or good christians, but knowingly ignoring neglect or worse is unconscionable.

To teachers-as a parent. you are my heros and deserve more respect and more pay than you get. Thank you to everything that you did for my kids and what you continue to do. You will always have my support.

It is true that in the US

It is true that in the US that, on average, students entering colleges of education have lower ACT/SAT scores than those entering many other colleges.
However, with the possible exception of certain secondary school subject areas, I'm not convinced that has any predictive value with regard to teaching success.

Similarly, I have doubts that a 3.0 standard will be of any real value. If we want to be sure that graduating teachers are expert in their subject matter areas, then I would think a better solution would be an exam -- similar to those taken by other professions (e.g. doctors, lawyers, engineers, etc). But, if I really wanted to change teacher education, I would get future teachers into classrooms earlier and more often.

Learning to read so you can read to learn is so critical, but I doubt a test at the end of 3rd grade is likely to produce much improvement. These kinds of advance/not advance questions need to happen earlier and more frequently. I volunteer two days a week in a 1st grade classroom, and even that early the range of student progress is quite significant. We can employ various techniques like varied instructional strategies to try to overcome this, but I can't help but thinking that more progress could be made for all children with more flexible groupings than year-long "grades".

John Hascall

To above

Good points Mr. Hascall but a commitment to studies is important and the courses teachers have to take are not very rigorous at all. Teachers have to take the NTE exam-two or three parts, also an easy exam, that is about basic knowledge. While it only tests basic knowledge, it is objective.

What we have now is student teacher and practicum evaluations which are useful but subjective. Still it needs to be part of the overall package.

There has to be an objective measure to also. This is where GPA and possibly NTE and actual content exams may be useful.

Ames actually observes applicants teaching a lesson, which is good.

A solid GPA alone may not give a comprehensive picture but together with observations, student teacher evaluations and testing should give a good idea of who will be good and who won't. In addition, much can be learned by the interview.

Until the profession is valued much more than it is and only the best are accepted into schools of education, the system will produce inconsistent results with kids not getting equal access.

Other countries have schools where there is a very high standard of professionalism both in teaching skills and interpersonal relationships. The bad mouthing and bullying that trickle down from poor administrative leadership do not occur in the countries where the teaching profession is held in high regard. People that behave like the bad minority would be weeded out very quickly because unprofessional behavior( cliques, bullying, inappropriate behavior) is an anomaly in countries that value the profession.

Most of Ames teachers are fabulous but there are some that are vulgar, disrespectful, mean and don't belong anywhere near kids. Again, this is a small minority of the world class Ames teachers, but it does bring up another issue-one that an above poster brought up. This is the code of silence. As long as the good ones allow the bad ones to engage in behaviors that hurt our children and waste our money, we are doomed to failure. Will it cost more money to raise the bar? Of course and it will be money well spent. We will have teachers who are all good, pressure each other to be their best, and move all kids forward. Right now, the ones who are bad are leaching the system. Get rid of them.

I just can't see how a GPA

I just can't see how a GPA requirement helps anything. One, I think it will result in grade inflation. Two, anyone with even the slightest clue will take enough breeze classes to make sure they make it over the hurdle.

The substitution of quantity of work for rigor is a complaint I have heard before about ISU's elementary education program.



If people are taking the easiest classes possible, they most certainly should get at least a 3.0. It should not be the only measure, but it should count. Student teaching and other qualitative data is very important too. The problem is that the supervising teachers, regardless of guidelines, are going to evaluate a little differently than the next teacher and some supervising teachers are more involved than others. One pieceat least has to be objective and concrete. I also don't think that students can take whatever courses they want. There are requirements to get a degree in education and if the requirements are shown to be indicative of nothing, then change them.

I get that people who are not "book smart" can be good teachers, but there is no way in the limited number of interactions with a job candidate that the hiring school district will be able to discern that although someone did not do well on courses, he'll make a good teacher. Too risky.

to legislators

Please forget about votes for a second and look at research. If the research and data say that children should be held back for their sake, please support it. If not, then don't. Please don't focus on what you see as 'popular' aka vote getting. There's a heck of a lot more at stake than you getting votes.

Missing the point

Pay teachers professional wages and professionals will pursue careers as teachers.

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