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Districts Say Some Third Graders Might Not Move Up Because Of Questions About Reading Tests Scores

Karen Kasler

At least three big school districts are pleading with state education officials to take a close look at what they think is a major discrepancy. This has to do with the tests given to see if a third grader can advance to the next level in reading. 

For each of the last three years, around 130,000 third graders around the state take a reading test to track their proficiency. They have several chances to take that test throughout the school year and summer break in order to reach the score that’s needed in order to advance to fourth grade reading.

But district officials in Akron, Canton and Columbus fear that many of their students won’t hit that mark because of a problem with the tests.

Columbus City Schools Spokesperson Scott Varner says they’re looking to state education leaders for help.

“This isn’t necessarily about a dumbing down of standards but instead an inequity in how the state uses alternative assessments to measure the skills and proficiency that students have.”

Here’s the problem according to Varner and the other districts. There are five tests that students can take, the official state test or four alternative tests.

The Ohio Department of Education sets the bar for the score a student needs to get on that state test in order to move out of third grade reading. Some call it a promotional score others a cut score.

ODE then takes that state score, works with the alternative tests vendors and determines what the promotional score would be for those tests as well.

But Varner says data officials in Columbus have determined the promotional score on their alternative test, the NWEA Map test, is not equivalent to the state test. In other words, the students have to perform better on the alternative test to pass compared to the state test.

Varner argues that these alternative tests are for students who might perform better with a test that approaches the subject in a different way.

“Which creates an unfair roadblock to those students who, simply because they test differently, now must reach a higher score than others,” said Varner.

Stephanie Dodd, a state school board member, says they need to starting looking into more data about the problem immediately.

“I would say it certainly looks as if something is not correct and it’s something that I feel we need to, as a department and local school districts and the vendors need to look into, to dig a little deeper and find out what’s going on.”

For Dodd, she believes if an inaccuracy is discovered and the promotional scores don’t align then it’s possible to adjust the scores and apply the new ones retroactively.

“If they do say the scores should be lower then we do need to look at then saying well certainly these students maybe did meet the promotion scores and should move on,” Dodd said.

The education department did not have anyone available to comment but did send out a lengthy written statement. In it, ODE defends the third grade reading guarantee and the important role it can play in a student’s future learning. The department added that they’re seeing a 10% increase of students reaching the promotional score compared to this time last year. However, they are also dedicated to researching the issue more as additional data comes in.

The summer gives students one last shot at taking the tests, something Varner says has helped in the past.

“But this year that hurdle is so much higher because so many more students were facing the possibility of being help back because of these changed and inequitable scores.”

Districts, including Columbus, tend to administer the state test along with an alternative test to see which one a student does better on.

Dodd believes further investigation into the possible problem will happen quickly and hopes to have a resolution before the beginning of the school year.

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