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Third-graders prepare for online state exam

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For the second time Indiana third-graders will be tested on whether they’re reading at grade level, but this year could be one of the last for the state exam.

In March, the second class of students will take the statewide reading assessment, which is a source of concern for local school officials and the new state superintendent of instruction, who say a pass/fail test is not the best way to gauge reading ability.

Third-graders took the test, called IREAD-3, for the first time last year. School officials believed they already were doing everything possible to teach elementary school students how to read well, but no one knew what questions students would be asked or how they would perform.

But after the test’s first year, the schools saw that giving students 90 minutes of uninterrupted reading time each day and providing individual help to students reading behind grade level, which they had been doing for years, was working. Of the 1,951 local third-graders tested, about 9 percent failed the exam last spring. And of the 185 students who were retested over the summer, only 13 didn’t pass.

Exam details

Here are details of the IREAD-3 exam:

What is it?

A reading test meant to gauge whether students are reading at grade level.

Who takes it?


When do they take it?

This year’s testing window is March 18 to 20.

What happens if they don’t pass?

Youngsters who don’t pass are retested in the summer. If they don’t pass either exam, they’re held back from fourth-grade reading lessons, and schools may decide to hold them back in third grade entirely.

What’s changing about the test?

This year, the exam will be given online at Center Grove, Clark-Pleasant, Edinburgh and Franklin schools.

“We just know what we’re heading into this year. We know what the tests look like, what the expected outcomes will be. Where last year we didn’t,” Franklin executive director of curriculum and instruction Deb Brown-Nally said.

While Brown-Nally feels better about students passing the test, she’s not in favor of the state using a pass/fail exam to determine a student’s reading abilities, especially because students who don’t pass the test can be held back from fourth-grade reading lessons.

“I don’t think it’s ever good to use one piece of data for anything,” she said.

State law requires the state education chief to evaluate third-graders’ reading skills and provide additional lessons for students who need them, keeping them in third grade as a last resort. Shortly after she was elected, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz said she wanted to review the law to see if Indiana can find a way other than IREAD-3 to assess third-graders.

Any changes would need to be approved by the General Assembly and Gov. Mike Pence.

For now, schools throughout the state will continue to give the test.

One change students at most local schools will notice this year is a shift to giving the IREAD-3 exam online.

Students who failed the first reading exam last spring and who were retested in the summer had to take the test online, which Brown-Nally and Clark-Pleasant curriculum and instruction specialist Cameron Rains said didn’t create any problems.

“Just knowing that there weren’t any major issues that came out of the online administration over the summer was helpful. I feel like we already had a good pilot test,” Rains said.

Taking the exam online also means schools should get the test results more quickly.

Last summer, schools received the online results within about two days. This spring’s results likely won’t be returned that fast, but schools should have more time to analyze the results and create plans for the students who failed.

That increases the chances that students who don’t pass the test the first time will pass during the summer retest, Brown-Nally and Rains said.

Neither Franklin nor Clark-Pleasant is making any significant changes in preparing students for IREAD-3.

Students still spend at least an hour-and-a-half reading each day, and students who aren’t reading at grade level can get another 30 minutes of reading time. Teachers and classroom assistants continue to work with students individually, so the youngsters are able to learn the definitions of more words and how to find an author’s main idea in a story.

None of the lessons used is designed specifically for IREAD-3, and many already were in place to help students become stronger readers.

“The goal has always been to make sure kids are reading and reading well,” Rains said.

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