Most area third-graders who needed to take a retest of Indiana’s required reading exam have moved on to fourth grade.
A total of 137 third-graders, or less than 10 percent from Johnson County’s six public school districts, failed the IREAD-3 reading test last spring and had to take the exam again during the summer. Indiana law requires third-graders to pass the test before continuing to fourth-grade reading lessons, and this year all but two local students either passed the exam or received waivers, school officials said.
That’s an improvement from last year, when 13 area students had to repeat all or a portion of fourth grade.
Students who are learning English as a second language, who are enrolled in special education programs or who have been held back twice before can qualify to move on to fourth-grade reading lessons even if they fail IREAD-3, though some school districts give those students the option to retake the test during the summer, school officials said.
Indiana started requiring IREAD-3 in 2012, as former State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett said it was important to ensure students were reading at grade level by the end of third grade. Studies have shown that third-graders who aren’t reading at grade level will have greater difficulty understanding what’s being taught in the upper grades.
Teachers locally and across the state agreed with assessing third-graders’ reading abilities, and IREAD-3 along with ISTEP and other exams can help school officials gauge how well a school’s reading lessons are working. But school officials still worry that a single exam given on a single day can’t accurately measure a third-grader’s reading ability, Clark-Pleasant curriculum instruction specialist Cameron Rains and Franklin executive director for curriculum and instruction Deb Brown-Nally said.
“It just strengthens your case for focus and deliberate instruction. I don’t think anyone ever recommends using just one piece of data to make decisions,” Brown-Nally said.
And while the state considers students who pass the exam ready for fourth-grade lessons, school districts will still be watching to be sure students who didn’t pass the test the first time don’t fall behind in fourth grade.
Schools conduct their own tests at least three times each year to see how well students are reading. Their teachers review those scores along with students’ grades and their performance in class, and if a student seems to be falling behind then they spend more time during the school day, either in small groups or one-on-one, studying the lessons they don’t understand, Rains and Brown-Nally said.
Teachers then reassess those students every two weeks to see if they’re any closer to mastering the material, Rains said.
Some of the students who didn’t pass IREAD-3 the first time may already be reading at or above their grade level — they may have simply been having a bad day during the test, and unpredictable factors are another reason teachers worry about the high stakes of the exam.
If students are still reading behind their peers in fourth grade, their teachers can still catch them up, though the students will likely need more time to review the reading lessons than younger students, Rains said.
“It just becomes more difficult to close the gap. And that’s not just a third to fourth grade jump. The younger a child is, the easier it is to intervene and close gaps,” he said.