The Woodward News

February 9, 2014

Third graders preparing for reading test

Rachael Van Horn
Woodward News

Woodward, Okla. — On the eve of enacting a new law in Oklahoma that holds back third graders who fail to pass a reading proficiency exam, it is still unclear how the new requirement will impact Oklahoma students scholastically, parents emotionally and school districts financially.

The legislation, passed in 2013, is in effect now.

The 2014 spring semester will see the first set of third-graders who could be affected if they score unsatisfactorily on the Oklahoma Core Curriculum test, according to Woodward Deputy Superintendent Kyle Reynolds.

“As educators we have always believed reading is one of the most important skills,” Reynolds said. “Reading well gives kids a better chance of being successful later on in every part of their lives.”

About three months before testing begins there could be over 10 percent of Woodward third graders who could need summer remediation or who are at risk for being retained, Reynolds said.

“Right now, for this first year of the testing, these numbers are a little discouraging” he said.

The primary focus of the RSA Reading Sufficiency Act is to end simple “social promotion” and address deficiencies in the most critical skill set – reading - early on in the child’s school career, Reynolds said.  

Several other states, including Florida, Ohio and Michigan have enacted or are considering enacting similar laws, according to news reports. Florida has been practicing the third grade testing for about 10 years.

In Louisiana, this type of testing is known as “high stakes” testing. It has been a reality there since 1986 with the use of the Louisiana Educational Assessment Program (LEAP), according to Bossier Parish Superintendent, D.C. Machen.

In the Louisiana system, students in the fourth and eighth grade must score satisfactorily on the LEAP test or be remediated or retained. Recently, the legislature there upped the ante again for Louisiana students with a new, more challenging set of standards, Machen said.

Because of the more rigorous requirements set out early as a benchmark by Bossier Parish administrators before the latest legislation took effect, students there performed well on the new, harder tests, Machen said.  This helped the district rank in the top 16 school districts in the state, Machen said.  

 Already Oklahoma schools have enacted a similar approach related to graduating high school students who must take the End of Instruction exam. That exam is aimed at determining how well students are prepared for college, Reynolds said.  

The new legislation regarding third graders is critical to the future success of Oklahoma students. It aims to end the social promotion of children who cannot read and therefore are not prepared to tackle the more difficult subjects as grade levels increase, said State Superintendent, Janet Barresi.

“The question often posed to me is: How can we consider holding back a child from moving on to the next grade,” Barresi said. “The question I pose to them is: How can we consider promoting a child who can’t read.”

The basic spirit of the law requires third grade students to take a reading test called the Oklahoma Core Curriculum Test (OCCT) every year, beginning in April this year. Based on how they perform on that exam, they will either be promoted or retained, Reynolds said.

Also, as a part of the new law, students in kindergarten, first and second grade will now undergo assessments throughout the school year to make sure in each grade level, students are hitting the mark, Reynolds said. This way they are better prepared to read at the third grade level when testing time comes, Reynolds said.

But Reynolds said some parents are a little panicked that something as significant as holding a child back a grade is being determined by one single day and one single test.

 He understands the concern of the parents but wants to sooth some of their fears.

“It’s not that cut and dry,” Reynolds said.

For instance, already, at the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year the reading skills of Woodward third-graders have been being assessed using a host of assessment tools that allow teachers and parents to know if their child is reading at grade level, Reynolds said.

“By now parents should know where their student is on his or her reading ability,” Reynolds said. “We have finished the first semester and have had one set of parent-teacher meetings already.”

These assessments are giving the teacher, administrators and parents the information they need to provide intensive and reading focused tutoring throughout the year, he said. This assistance has been aimed at helping them reach the level of reading that will allow them to pass the RSA test in April.

If a child does not pass the test, there are still some goal focused solutions offered by the school, such as more tutoring and a summer reading academy that can help students reach the goal over the summer and be promoted.

“Retaining a student is the last resort,” Reynolds said.

According to the law, students who do not pass the exam could possibly be exempt from being retained for “good cause” reasons such as; Students who are still learning English and have less than two years of English language training, some students with disabilities and several other exemptions regarding students who have had two years of approved remediation, but still are deficient in reading.

To achieve the new standard set out by the law, it now falls upon the school districts to hire tutors, schedule and provide remediation and provide teachers with continuing education on better strategies to teach reading, Reynolds said.

The district has about $32,000 of RSA funding that they can use to that end, Reynolds said.

That said, the most fiscally effective method and one that works better than all the tutors in the world are parents who get with their children and read with them every night, he said.

Parents hold the real power to opening the world of adventure through books, he said.  

“It is well known that parents who read early to their children have children who learn to love to read,” Reynolds said.