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Educators approach IREAD-3 with confidence

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More than 2,000 Johnson County third-graders will soon take a test that will determine whether they can move on to fourth-grade reading lessons, but principals aren’t concerned about their students passing.

This is the third year that Indiana is requiring third-graders to take the IREAD-3 exam, a test that has students read different essays and then answer questions about the content. Any third-grader who doesn’t take or pass IREAD-3 in the spring or the retest over the summer cannot move on to fourth-grade reading lessons.

Principals, teachers and parents were worried about IREAD-3 during the first round of testing in 2012 because of the tests’ high stakes and because no one knew what students would be asked. Between 88 and 99 percent of the local students tested in 2012 passed the exam on their first try, while in 2013 between 89 and 96 percent of students passed the test the first time.

School officials still don’t believe that a single test is the best way to measure a student’s ability to read, but they don’t expect many of their students to have problems passing the exam this year.

“I think (students) have a good idea now of what the test looks like, and the expectations of that test,” Isom Elementary School Principal Sandra Wooton said.

Teachers said they haven’t changed their reading lessons much since IREAD-3 began. Their goal has always been to help students read at grade level as quickly as possible. Elementary schools provide at least 90 minutes of reading time for all students each day, and students who need help understanding vocabulary words or quickly finding an author’s main idea typically get even more reading time.

Wooton and Creekside Elementary School Principal Mark Heiden believe it’s important to ensure students are strong readers before they leave third grade, and that schools need to provide help for students behind their peers. But they also don’t believe students should automatically be held back from fourth-grade reading lessons for failing IREAD-3.

The state requires the test because studies have shown that students who aren’t reading at grade level by third grade typically have trouble mastering lessons in higher grades.

Shortly after she was elected, State Superintendent of Public Education Glenda Ritz said she planned to look for ways to remove the requirement that students who failed IREAD-3 and the summer retest be held back.

Heiden and Wooton both want schools to have more say in whether or not a student is held back from fourth-grade reading lessons. Teachers who have spent the school year working with and assessing students’ reading abilities are more informed about whether they are ready to move on than someone reviewing one set of test results, they said.

“I wish the legislature would get rid of (the retention requirement), but I don’t see that happening,” Heiden said.

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