The Woodward News

Local News

February 16, 2014

Concerns pop up over third grade reading tests


Woodward, Okla. — So for instance, if your child scores in the 25th percentile, he or she is reading equal to or better than 25 percent of the students the child is being compared against, she said.

This is a test that does indeed have questions that are at fifth, sixth, seventh and even eighth grade levels as well as second and third grade levels because there are a certain percentage of children who can answer those eighth grade test questions, Brecheen said.

Those alternative tests - the norm referenced tests - are graded on a Bell Curve using scores of all third graders nationally as the standard that sets the Bell Curve, she said.

A student who takes the alternative test after receiving remediation must score in the 45th percentile on the alternative test to be promoted, Brecheen said.

The norms on every one of those tests are in the third grade range, she said.  

“If you look at many of the other states that have also enacted this law, they are setting theirs at the 50th percentile and we chose the 45th because we wanted to be fair and give them every chance of succeeding,” Brecheen said.

According to Florida Department of Education spokeswoman Cheryl Etters, in April students there take a state assessment and must score satisfactorily on the reading portion just like Oklahoma students.

In Florida, the state third grade reading test is a criterion-referenced test that does include some questions of a more difficult nature to capture who in each school is reading above the third grade level, Etters said.

“We have to provide those more difficult questions otherwise how would we know about those students who are reading above grade level,” she said. “But it is still the third grade reading test.”

Students there also have a chance to take an alternative test, which is also criterion-referenced.

The argument from Woodward School District administration is pretty straightforward and not at all difficult to understand, Fisher said.

“The bottom line is, if they are going to test third graders on the ability to read at the third grade level, they should use third grade material,” Fisher said. “Those norm referenced tests are for assessment. You do not use assessment tests to determine if a child can read at the third grade level.”

His argument drills down to the fundaments of teaching and working with students.

“What they are not considering is the emotional state of a third grade student who gets into the test and maybe the first question in written at the eighth grade level,” Fisher said. “He gets to that first question and says to himself, ‘I can’t even read this word,’ and then his anxiety level goes up and maybe the student who could read perfectly well at the third grade level, still performs poorly on the test.

That opinion couldn’t be more simply stated than by Mandy Cheap, the parent of a Woodward third-grader.

“I do not agree with high stakes testing, especially at such a young age. Basing a child’s pass/fail status on one test score is ludicrous,” she said. “Telling an 8 year old child that they will have to flunk a grade if they don’t pass a test is absurd.  When do kids get to be kids?  I know how important reading skills are to a child’s education. I know without a firm foundation in reading all school subjects will be difficult but shouldn’t we be more focused on teaching these children to read and not so focused on testing.”


That is the emphatic and vocally proclaimed opinion of Professor Shane Jimerson of the University of California – Santa Barbara. He calls high stakes testing with the threat of retention “complete garbage.”

For more than 20 years, Jimerson has studied the effects of retention as well as proven methods to teach reading that are, he said, successful and produce positive results.

He notes that within these reading sufficiency laws cropping up in many states, there are truly productive and evidence based teaching methods that are also included such as reduced teacher-student ratios and high-performing teachers. But he says the linking of the test to being retained is so damaging that it cancels out. almost, the effects of the positive teaching models proven to work on students who have difficulty reading.

According to Jimerson’s research and numerous data, retaining children doesn’t help the child read better. Instead studies show it produces stress at the same level as that experienced with the death of a parent or going blind, Jimerson said.

 Jimerson added that retaining students because they failed a test shows in many studies to be the single most significant predictor of a student dropping out of high school as well as more aggressive acting out and other deleterious effects.

“This is legislation and policy making that is inconsistent with science,” Jimerson said. “It should be about the reality not the rhetoric.”

For Fisher’s part, he understands the legislation is in force. But he wants legislators to do the right thing and create a program that uses sound science, proven teaching methods and assessments that are fair, don’t set students up to fail and measure what they are supposed to.

His request is for the legislature to rewrite the law in a way that allows teachers and administrators to write a test that measures actual third grade reading ability.

“We need to get a committee formed of third grade teachers at all levels, get superintendent’s recommendations for those teachers from all different levels of schools and meet in Oklahoma City,” Fisher said. “You get together and you write reading passages and you check the reading level using approved methods and it has to be on the third grade. It can be done, because I did it for eight grade math and I know it can be done.”


Reading Sufficiency Act  requires benchmark assessments in kindergarten through third grade. Many schools assess pre-kindergarten students in literacy. The law mandates schools to use these benchmarks to identify children who need intensive intervention in reading beginning in these early grades and to notify the parents of these students in writing.


Moreover, the school must develop for that student an individualized program of reading instruction that includes:

• the child’s specific reading difficulty

• the intensive teaching practices to be


• how often progress will be monitored


Moreover, the plan must ensure enough time is given to the student to achieve grade-level reading.

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