ELYRIA — Districts will be allowed to give third-grade students one of three alternative reading tests before the Third Grade Reading Guarantee kicks in and state law requires students to be held back.
This is the year the state’s highly controversial mandate comes into play, which will force all school districts to get every student to a proficient level of reading or hold back low achievers until they can read at grade level.
Statewide, hundreds of students — roughly 35 percent — did not pass the October administration of the Ohio Achievement Assessment and are in jeopardy of not advancing to the fourth grade.
In an effort to get more students over the threshold and avoid the stigma of retention, the Ohio Department of Education announced Wednesday it will allow districts the option of also administering the Iowa Assessment, Northwest Evaluation Association-Measurement of Academic Progress (NWEA-MAP) or Terra Nova 3 Assessment.
Students who pass one of the alternative tests will meet the state’s guideline for advancement.
Districts will still be accountable for the number of students who pass the reading OAA and will have to pay for the administration and scoring of the alternative test. But now the mandate has the potential of impacting fewer students.
“You can’t just do it with the OAA,” said Lorain Superintendent Tom Tucker. “What bothers me and what has always bothered all educators about this mandate is the fact that it gauges if a student passes or fails on one test. What if they are distracted, sick or are dealing with a family issue that day? All of that will affect how well they do on a test.”
In Lorain, where historically 25 percent to 30 percent of students have not passed the third-grade reading assessment, the OAA is not the sole benchmark used to determine proficiency. All students take the OAA, but they also take the NWEA-MAP as both an assessment and diagnostic tool in the fall, winter and spring.
“It’s a predictor of where a student is academically, what they need to be taught and what interventions or enrichments are best,” Tucker said. “Reading is not just reading. It’s fluency, word acquisition and comprehension.”
Educators have known for months that alternative tests would be available and believe it will help students — especially those who struggle to pass the OAA.
The test, often a young student’s first brush with standardized assessment, is a beast of an exam that is 2½ hours long with no breaks.
That alone has soured many educators on the test. By comparison, the Iowa Assessment is two 30-minute tests that have to be given on one day, but a break is allowed.
“I’m a firm believer that you need more than one tool,” said Elyria’s Director of Academic Services Ann Schloss. “I’m glad the state is coming out with alternatives. With the OAA, we are putting all our eggs in one basket and this gives kids alternatives for us to see if it’s that one test or is the student really struggling.”
Department of Education spokesman John Charlton said the additional tests have both online and pencil-and-paper options, as well as either essay or multiple-choice format.
Except for students with special circumstances, third-graders must meet a minimum score of 392 on the OAA reading test to move on to the fourth grade. The test was first administered in October and will again be given to students in the coming weeks.
After the first test, just 50 percent of students passed the test on the first try. Roughly 125 Elyria students across seven elementary schools fell into the category of being affected by the Third Grade Reading Guarantee.
Schloss said it wasn’t the students most people would peg as having trouble with reading. Many earned scores of 390 or 391 points. Others are students the district would consider high performers in the classroom.
“We had some gifted kids that did not get a 392 or above,” Schloss said. “The test, like any other single test, does not address a subgroup that is growing — students who can make the grades, but simply do not test well.”
When looking at the alternatives, Schloss said it’s too early to tell which tests Elyria will go with as its alternative. From comparable content to turnaround time on results, the district will aim to select the test that is best for students.
State officials said it will be up to individual districts to determine which test they give and when. Adding the alternative test now gives students four opportunities to show readiness and be promoted to the fourth grade.
In addition to the fall and spring, a summer OAA is scheduled for students who still need to pass the reading assessment.
STATE’S THIRD GRADE GUARANTEE IN EFFECT FOR STUDENTS
WHAT IS IT? Ohio’s Third Grade Guarantee ensures that every struggling reader gets the support he or she needs to be able to learn and achieve.
HOW DOES IT WORK? In kindergarten through grade three, schools will evaluate all children to determine if they are reading as well as they should be. If a child appears to be falling behind in reading, the school will immediately start a reading improvement plan.
Schools will work closely with parents to help create and carry out their child’s reading improvement plan. This plan will address the child’s specific reading problems.
ADVANCING TO FOURTH GRADE: Except for students with special circumstances, students must meet a minimum score on the state reading test to move on to the fourth grade. In 2013-14, the minimum score for advancement is 392. The student must attain this score when taking the state reading test in the fall or spring.
If the student remains in the third grade, the school must provide 90 minutes of reading instruction each school day.
A student can still take fourth-grade classes in all other subjects if the student is ready.
Schools can move students to the fourth grade in the middle of the year if the student’s reading improves.
HOW IT HELPS: Studies on Florida’s version of the Third Grade Guarantee show that students who remained in the third grade and received intensive reading instruction improved dramatically in overall school performance in the years following.