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Editorial: Respectable reading test scores no reason to relax

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More than 90 percent of Johnson County third-graders passed the state’s mandatory test of reading competency. Many of those who didn’t pass will receive extra instruction and likely will pass the test when it is administered again this summer.

The youngsters’ performance is significant because of the importance of reading in learning. Reading is a foundational skill. That is, it’s one on which all other academic areas rely.

During kindergarten through first grade, students are learning how to learn. After that, they use those skills to learn other subjects. As one teacher put it: Up to Grade 3, students learn to read. From then on, they read to learn.

The test the state administers is the Indiana Reading Evaluation and Determination, or IREAD-3. Indiana began requiring the exam in 2012, and the state’s passing rate improved slightly from 2013. About 86 percent of students tested passed the exam this spring, up from 85 percent last year, according to the Indiana Department of Education.

The goal of the test is to ensure students are reading at grade level before moving on to fourth grade. Research has shown that students who are behind in reading once they move beyond third grade take longer to catch up. Teachers locally and across Indiana agree that students’ reading skills should be tested, but many also worry about the high stakes of the test and don’t believe that one test is an accurate measurement of a student’s abilities.

Third-graders locally and across Indiana took the IREAD-3 exam in March, and more than 90 percent of the 1,854 Johnson County students who were tested passed. That means they’re reading at or beyond grade level and can move on to fourth-grade reading lessons.

The percentage of students who passed the exam went up for Clark-Pleasant, Edinburgh, Greenwood and Nineveh-Hensley-Jackson schools and fell slightly for Center Grove and Franklin schools. The greatest improvement was at Clark-Pleasant — 94 percent of students passed IREAD-3 this year, up from 90 percent last year and 88 percent in 2012, according to information from the Indiana Department of Education.

Work to ensure students pass the test doesn’t begin in third grade. Teachers typically start tracking students’ reading abilities in kindergarten. That way they can tell earlier if a student is falling behind.

Local elementary schools provide 90 minutes of reading each day for students. If students are behind, they spend more time working with teachers or reading coaches to improve the skills they haven’t mastered. That way, by the time students begin third grade, they’re already caught up and reading at grade level.

While the results of the state test are noteworthy, the scores merely represent what the youngsters should have learned by this point. So there is no room for complacency. Parents and teachers need to continue their efforts to help students improve their reading skills.

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