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The seating arrangement in the third-grade classrooms at Columbus Signature Academy Lincoln Campus testifies to the importance the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. as a whole places on student reading.
Groups of students are split up into groups based on their reading needs and sit at tables so teachers can give them the individual attention they need to improve.
The grouping concept also is used for other subjects, such as math and science, and duplicated in schools throughout the district and in the Flat Rock-Hawcreek School Corp.
Now, Bartholomew County school districts, which had seen strong third-grade passing rates on the IREAD-3 test last school year, are seeing those rates get even better after failing students had a chance to retest during the summer.
The passing rate for Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. climbed more than 2 percentage points to 91 percent. Flat Rock-Hawcreek School Corp., meanwhile, improved from 93.5 percent passing initially to 100 percent.
The Indiana Department of Education, which reported a 91 percent passing rate statewide, a half-percentage point better than the year before, instituted IREAD in 2012 as a measuring stick to see whether third-grade students are intellectually ready for a fourth-grade reading level.
The state recently released IREAD results statewide as a follow-up to preliminary test results announced in May.
The original data showed that 848 third-graders in Bartholomew Consolidated passed the test at a combined rate of nearly 89 percent. During the summer, 38 students who failed were retested, and 28 of them passed.
Three of the 10 students who didn’t pass after the second attempt operated under special circumstances for physical disabilities, language barriers or other limitations, said Teresa Heiny, director of elementary education for Bartholomew Consolidated schools. The state does not require those students to pass the test to avoid remediation, as required of other students.
Without good-cause exemptions, the passing rate is 99 percent, according to the school corporation.
No students who failed after the second attempt were held back from advancing to fourth grade exclusively because of the IREAD test, said Samantha Harpring, testing coordinator for the Bartholomew Consolidated district.
She said IREAD really was more of a confirmation of the difficulties teachers already knew certain students experienced. She said the 1 percent of students who failed after the second attempt are receiving reading remediation.
The rest of the students proved themselves ready for the next level.
“We’re just very proud of all the work we’ve seen from the kids, their parents and their teachers,” Heiny said. “I think we’re seeing kids learning on a deeper level than before.”
Ten out of 11 schools in the Bartholomew Consolidated saw improvements in passing rates after students were retested. The exception was Smith Elementary School, which already was at a district high 97.8 percent. Its rate remained the same.
Chad Phillips, principal of Lincoln, said his elementary school’s nearly 5-percentage point improvement to 97.6 percent was because of teachers’ remediation efforts that extended into summer school for those children who did not pass.
IREAD is a high-stakes test that can be intimidating the first time around, because children understand the importance, Phillips said. He said children who retook the test during the summer were familiar with it and more comfortable than they were the first time.
Katie Putnam, who is a third-grade teacher at Lincoln, said administrators and teachers at her school continually examine data to determine the individual ability of children at every level. She said dividing them into groups allows every student to be challenged as they follow a daily format that includes writing, reading on their own and listening to adults read as the students follow along.
She said the reading material varies from one group to the next. But in general, she said, third-graders read about five stories a week for class. That’s in addition to reading they have to do for math and other subjects.
“I’m proud of the strides these kids make,” Putnam said. “You see that growth in them from one day to the next.”
Tina Gaskill, the mother of a Richards Elementary School fourth-grader, Riley, said she doesn’t know enough about IREAD to have an opinion about its value for students.
But she is against testing in general, because her daughter, who took IREAD last school year, doesn’t deal so well with the anxiety and distractions that come from taking tests in the same room as other children.
“When there are distractions at home, Riley has to go to a different room to comprehend what she’s reading,” Gaskill said. “I’m the same way.”
Flat Rock-Hawcreek officials were thrilled with their third-graders’ 100 percent passing rate. Superintendent Kathy Griffey said the few students who had to retake the test at Hope Elementary School received valuable remediation that made a difference.
The fact that only five third-graders failed the test the first time was an accomplishment, given the school has 77 third-graders who originally took the test in March, Griffey said. But she added that all of the retested students passing was special.
She said teachers and administrators study the data from standardized tests and adjust individual student education based on the results. Like Lincoln, third-graders at Hope Elementary who failed the test took summer school.
“The teachers and students worked very hard,” she said. “This shows that what we’re doing has some merit.”
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