Thousands of Ohio third-graders escape the ‘failed’ list for reading

Jul 23, 2014 by

In mid-June, after the second state reading test was scored and returned to Ohio schools, more than 16,000 elementary students faced another year in third grade after failing to achieve the cut score for the Third Grade Reading Guarantee.

Two-thirds of those students attended eight large urban school districts and could not advance a grade until they achieved a higher score.

Since then, though, some of these urban schools have made remarkable strides.

The largest literacy gains have been reported in Akron and Cincinnati. Passing rates of about 80 percent in the spring have jumped to 99 percent and 97 percent, respectively, following summer tutoring and exemptions for special education and non-English-speaking students.

Columbus, Canton, Cleveland, Dayton and Youngstown, while cutting in half the number of possible retentions, report a combined lower pass rate of 84 percent.

Pass rates are likely to improve again when the results of a third test are returned in August.

And, as administrators in Dayton and other school districts contacted by the Beacon Journal have noted, not all students who are exempt from retention have been identified.

When they are identified, pass rates could soar.

Either way, the ominous projection that 16,000 would fail third grade — a figure widely reported in June — should be less than 8,000, perhaps much less.

It’s not just urban schools that expect significant gains.

Stow-Munroe Falls, for example, reported 23 students at risk of retention in the spring. Now there are two: one a recent addition to the district and the other still learning to speak English. “We are confident that those two students will also pass,” said Karen Moore, the district’s director of student achievement.

Early identification

While Moore waits for the final state test results and prepares for next year by offering summer intervention to incoming third-graders, Akron is planning more instructional time next school year for English language learners who represent a third of its 14 third-graders yet to pass the Third Grade Reading Guarantee.

“They’re still struggling,” said Mary Outley-Kelly, Akron’s director of elementary education. “Language is still a barrier. So our next line of work is what do we do with our [English-as-a-second-language] students to give them even more in a shorter time period.”

Akron and Cincinnati launched efforts early in the school year, identifying struggling students and piling on intervention (as prescribed by state law). They also garnered community support.

And unlike Columbus, Dayton and Youngstown, they administered during the school year tests that tell teachers more about their students than the standard state-issued test.

Tests, and more tests

With only 57 percent of Ohio third-graders reading proficiently in October, the state expanded ways to boost success rates, mainly by offering more tests.

The state required schools to administer the usual two state reading tests during the school year and added a third for the summer. It also allowed schools to use tests from a list of approved private vendors and use the results to advance students.

The state released the approved list in March. Akron and Cincinnati already had been using tests on the list, so they reviewed students’ scores and found that many had succeeded in passing.

“That helped them,” said Michelle Pierre-Farid, chief academic officer for Cleveland Metropolitan Schools, which waited until the spring to administer a single additional test. “We weren’t aware [the tests would count] until ODE approved them. Once they did approve it, that changed our numbers.”

Aside from giving students another crack at passing, the private-vendor tests gave schools detailed information about where each student struggled, not just overall scores.

“It gives a lot more detailed information. And it gives instant feedback,” said Cheryl Broadnax, director of the early childhood department in Cincinnati Public Schools.

Akron and Cincinnati, and many other schools, used this granular information to hone instruction and personalize education plans.

Columbus, however, waited until the summer to offer these additional tests, “for those last-minute folks who have not passed the [state] test yet,” a spokesman for the school district said.

Summer school

Every urban school district said it beefed up instruction during and after the school year.

During the school year, Akron placed an additional teacher in every elementary school to work with each struggling reader for 40 days prior to testing. These students, totaling nearly 600 at the beginning of the year, attended special literacy classes daily.

A final push came during a summer reading camp as each elementary became a Third Grade Reading Academy.

At Case Elementary, third-grade teacher Stephanie Baugh took in 10 struggling readers. Four weeks later, “they all passed,” she said, proudly.

For 270 minutes per day, the summer program drew on high-interest reading material like Greek mythology and adventure-based curricula that engaged students. The program also incorporated Internet technology.

As one parent said of his daughter, who wished only to attend half of the four-week summer school, “She was very involved in class and looked forward to returning the next day. After the second day of class, [my daughter] asked me if she could do the entire four-week program, which, of course, we said yes.”

via Thousands of Ohio third-graders escape the ‘failed’ list for reading – Local – Ohio.

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