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Third Graders Struggling on OAA Reading Can Take An Alternative Test

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 8:43 PM

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Parents concerned that their third graders could be held back because of their low reading scores on the Ohio Achievement Assessment have another option.

The Ohio Department of Education says there are three alternative assessments kids can take that are allowed under the state's Third Grade Reading Guarantee. ODE released the approved exams today.

If students perform proficient or better on one of those exams, they can be promoted to fourth grade even if they don't earn the retention cutoff score of 392 on the OAA reading section.

To be clear, the alternative tests can't be taken in lieu of the OAA.

It's up to school districts to decide which alternative tests they'll administer, and when students can take them.

John Charlton, a spokesperson for ODE, says the alternatives are aligned to what students need to know by the end of the third grade, and are considered more rigorous.  But he says they may have different style questions than the OAA and offer more multiple choice than short writing prompts that may work better for some students.

"It does provide another opportunity for a student to prove that they can demonstrate that they understand the material and that they can read at a certain level," Charlton says.

So what are the alternative tests?

How do they compare to the Ohio Achievement Assessment?

Testing experts say its hard to make comparisons.

For one thing, the Iowa Achievement Assessment, Terra Nova, and the MAP test are considered nationally normed tests which means they allow for the comparison of how students perform nationally.   The Ohio Achievement Assessment is a state developed test and only allows for a comparison between other Ohio students, not other students nationally.

The MAP is given on a computer and is considered computer adaptive. The difficulty of the questions constantly changes and adapts to a student's skill levels as he continues taking the test.  It's used in 6800 school districts--roughly half--of districts nationwide.

Will students be better off taking one of these alternatives?

“The odds of them doing better on one of these other tests are really low," says Monty Neill, executive director of the testing advocacy group FairTest based in Boston.  "Maybe it could happen, but the odds are really low."

Neill says all tests have some amount of error, so that may be one reason Ohio made alternatives available.  Norm referenced tests like the alternatives Ohio has chosen tend to be largely multiple choice, Neill says, and that could make a difference for some students.

"Kids may do better on one than another, but usually one that they’ve been coached for," he says.

ODE's John Charlton says he anticipates a few thousand students could take one of the alternatives and the state hasn't set a limit on the number of times kids can take them.  But he says kids struggling on the OAA should have access to a number of reading intervention programs available in their district.

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