November 23, 2014


School districts can choose alternative reading test for third-graders

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.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or Follow her on Twitter @LisaRobersonCT.


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.

Ohio Department of Education fact sheet

  • oldruss

    An article in The Plain Dealer, March 10, 2014, compared the scores of the worst school districts in the state for the Third Grade fall OAA reading test. Near the bottom of the list was the Cleveland Metropolitan School District with 57.8 percent of its Third Graders being categorized as Limited Readers, the worst grade given by the state.

    Far too close behind the CMSD’s was the Lorain City School District, with an equally abysmal 51.3 percent [NOT 25 to 30 percent as the article claimed] of its Third Graders categorized as Limited Readers.

    Keep this in mind, the next time the School Board goes to the voters for more money

    • Soon2bMrsB

      I really hope you are not implying that voters should not vote for more money when it comes to our children’s education.
      Teachers are faced with very difficult hurdles these days. When a teacher has 25 students in a classroom with only one teacher it becomes extremely difficult to give the one on one intervention that most struggling readers need.
      Also, we need to keep in mind that learning needs to start at home from birth. Teachers only have the children for 6-7 hrs a day (sometimes less) starting at age 4-5 depending, so learning needs to start & be reinforced at home. Without the proper support & reinforcement at home, children are at a huge disadvantage!!!

      • oldruss

        The CMSD and the Lorain City School District seem to be, based on most all empirical evidence available, failed systems. Throwing more and more money into those black holes makes no sense. Let the parents trapped in those districts, that do give a damn, move their children to charter schools or to private schools with liberal vouchers from the state.

        • Soon2bMrsB

          That is a very ignorant comment & that is all I will say about that. : )

          • oldruss

            With all due apology to Albert Einstein, “ignorance is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.”

            Throwing more and more money into the black holes is the quintessential example of “ignorance” in practice.

          • Soon2bMrsB

            Thank you for the definition, Webster’s Dictionary! : ) I will be sure to remember that one .

          • golfingirl

            Lorain City schools are consistently one of the highest cost per student districts in the state of Ohio.

            Others like Avon and Avon Lake spend significantly less per pupil with outcomes Lorain can only dream about.

            Clearly, the money invested per student is not proportional to the product being delivered. (maybe inversely proportional).

            I am so tired of people who play the “how can you do this to our children card” anytime accountability is demanded of a school system.

            It has been shown time and time again that more taxpayers dollars is not the solution. Lorain is a perfect example of this, as is the Cleveland public school system.

            People who challenge this line of thinking are often referred to as lacking compassion, selfish or ignorant. This is getting really old!

            Anyone who looks at this objectively, with an evidence-based mentality, can draw only one conclusion. More money is NOT the answer.

            History and mathematics confirm this irrefutable position.

            So what grade do you teach?

          • Young Teacher

            Actually, that’s the definition of insanity. So well played sir.

  • golfingirl

    Can’t pass the test, just make the test easier?

    What a ridiculous solution.

  • Ginger Beez

    My 9yr old who has ADHD reads just fine. Can tell me what a story is about. His spelling needs a little work but his vocabulary is awesome. He was given a reading tutor the last 3 months of school who had told me personally that she didn’t see why. That he was reading over a 3rd grade level. He just has a hard time sitting down to do the testings. His Scantron scores are above average in math and just above average for reading. I was home schooling him with K12… never again! The teacher communication isn’t the best. I was told to worry about spelling and math that at 60% completed that he will pass the class. Then at the end of the school year was told differently. That principle just got a nice email. The commercial lies btw. I was keeping him home because of his ADHD but since he’s been home he has improved on his behavior a lot. He does have a 504. I would be alright about the OAA if he can take the 4th grade classes. I have a feeling this next year is going to be hellish.