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Educators criticize state reading test as unfocused snapshot


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A standardized test that Bartholomew County school officials criticize as unfair to third-graders is influencing decisions about whether to hold them back or pass them to the fourth grade.

School officials at the Bartholomew Consolidated and Flat Rock-Hawcreek school systems said they respect the Indiana Reading Evaluation and Determination assessment test as an important piece of a puzzle that determines if students are ready for the next step in their education.

But IREAD-3 is more than that.

The state recommends that third-graders who fail the test as well as a second crack at it in the summer be forced to either repeat the grade or receive remediation in fourth grade to help them catch up.

What is IREAD-3?

The IREAD-3 assessment exam measures foundational reading standards in third-graders to determine whether they are ready for a fourth-grade reading curriculum.

It consists of multiple-choice questions in the word analysis areas of:

Beginning sounds

Ending sounds

Vowel sounds (A, E, I, O and U)

Synonyms (words that mean the same thing)

Antonyms (words that mean the opposite)

Homographs (words that are spelled the same but have different meanings)

Suffixes

Source: Indiana Department of Education

It’s a sore spot for many educators who disapprove of any test that doesn’t take into account that students could have a bad day and might at times perform beneath their actual abilities.

“It’s a snapshot, not a long-term look at a student’s overall body of work,” said Teresa Heiny, director of elementary education for the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp.

Elementary schools in the county’s two public school systems administered IREAD-3 early this month. It was the second year for the exam since the Indiana Department of Education introduced it statewide under Tony Bennett. The state superintendent of public instruction, a Republican who developed a reputation as an education reformer, lost his re-election bid in November to Democrat Glenda Ritz, who has said she doesn’t approve of the test’s pass-fail format.

Results of this month’s IREAD-3 tests aren’t back. However, if the first year is any indication, almost all third-graders will pass anyway by the time students who failed take it again in the summer.

Bartholomew Consolidated

Heiny said Bartholomew Consolidated elementary schools held back nine students last year either because of poor IREAD-3 test results or because their teachers, administrators and parents felt like another year of third grade would help address the students’ individual needs.

That’s 1.3 percent of last year’s 838 total third-graders in the school system.

She said another six students were promoted to fourth grade but had to receive remediation to help them with reading.

Heiny said her concern is the reality that individual children — especially those who are held back — will have to live with that emotional letdown for the rest of their lives.

It is for that reason that the school system prefers to hold students back at any grade level only in extreme circumstances.

She said a school generally can meet a child’s needs at the higher level in small-group remediation stations that break down student bodies into subgroups to get special attention.

“If you talk to any adult who’s been retained as a child, they remember that feeling,” Heiny said. “It’s a hard thing for them.”

At least some educators feel differently about the IREAD test’s value as a measuring stick, which they said is pretty solid.

Sydell Gant, principal at Taylorsville Elementary School, said she has no issue with the content of the exam as a means to measure a student’s ability to read at their grade level. In fact, her school also gives IREAD to kindergarten, first-grade and second-grade students, even though the standardized test is not required for those grade levels.

She said children younger than third grade are the ones learning to read. By third grade, they should have those fundamentals mastered to the extent that they can use what they know to learn other things, such as science and history.

Flat Rock-Hawcreek

Kathy Griffey, superintendent of the Flat Rock-Hawcreek school district, said fewer than 10 out of about 70 third-graders at Hope Elementary School last year failed IREAD-3. She said all were special education students, and all were promoted to fourth grade where they got remedial attention.

In fact, she said no third-graders were retained last year for any reason.

Griffey also opposes placing too much emphasis on a single test. She said holding a child back is a stressful ordeal that affects everyone, from the child to parents to the teacher.

School officials developed remediation plans for the special-needs students based on their individual needs, Griffey said. Those remedial sessions happen during the school day.

Griffey said that if students from the general student body had failed the exam, their remediation probably would have been scheduled for a time outside the school day.

“Last year was the first year we had IREAD,” she said. “We’re still trying to sort it out.”

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