For Some, Passing The Third Grade Hinges On Alternative Reading Tests

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One would like to think that persistence and hard work alone over the course of the school year brought 3rd graders up to the level necessary to meet the third grade reading guarantee.

That was, no doubt, part of it – a big part, in some cases.

From last fall to this spring, many Ohio school districts saw improvement in the numbers of third grade students proficient enough in reading to advance to the fourth grade, based on scores from the Ohio Achievement Assessment, or OAA.


Results from the spring test released Tuesday show that statewide, 88 percent of 3rd graders are ready to advance - compared to only 63 percent after the fall tests.

State Department of Education spokesman John Charlton told Ohio Public Radio that after the fall OAA scores came out showing many students reading below grade level, schools across the state put new energy into bringing them up to standard.

Janet Walsh of Cincinnati City Schools says that’s true for her district.

“We put a lot of focus on third grade reading this year," Walsh says.  "We have a reading specialist in every elementary school.  And we have been working in small groups with struggling readers all year long.”

And the numbers for Cincinnati show it.  In October, 63 percent of Cincinnati third graders read well enough to advance.  After the spring test, it was up to 82 percent.

But that still leaves many students not ready for fourth grade.  Turns out, though, a good portion of them will advance anyway.

“When we add in the number of students we know at this point in time who have passed an alternative assessment, we reach 97 percent of our third graders being in line for a promotion to fourth grade,” Walsh says.

That’s right – an alternative test.  After the fall test results came out and many became alarmed at the prospect of nearly 40 percent of third graders being held back, state education officials in March approved three alternative tests for students. ODE's John Charlton explains.

“If a child did not reach a promotion score on the Ohio Achievement Assessment, they could use a score on one of the approved alternative assessments," says Walsh.  "That would also work to allow them to be promoted."

Charlton says third graders who did not meet the score for promotion will get two other opportunities this summer – one an alternative test, and also one last crack at the Ohio Achievement Assessment.

“We suspect that a lot of students who have not yet reached the promotion score on the Ohio Acheivement Assessment, or will meet one of the exceptions to be promoted as well," he says

The exceptions include special education students, and those with limited English skills.

One other important point: the promotion score, or “cut score,”, as it’s often called it, isn’t quite the same as the proficiency score.  It’s lower – eight points below the score of 400 the state says is the minimum for proficient.  The Cincinnati School's Janet Walsh says 400 may not be the key number in the third grade guarantee – but it does matter what percentage of kids meet that mark when it comes to school report cards.

“Last year for the first time, we met the standard – we exceeded, slightly, the standard for proficiency on third grade reading," says Walsh. "This year the state is raising the bar to 80 percent."

"So we will be on pins and needles waiting to see what our final data are for third grade reading.”

That will probably happen in early August.

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