Two new education initiatives for young Ohio children are colliding this year, putting thousands more students at risk of failing the third grade.
One initiative, the Common Core standards, requires schools to give more rigorous instruction and administer more difficult tests. The first round was administered two months ago, and next year the tests will be even harder as all questions will be aligned with the national Common Core.
The other mandate, the Third Grade Reading Guarantee, requires schools to provide reading intervention for elementary students. If they’re not reading at a specified level by the end of third grade, they’re held back.
Figuring out how many students may be retained can be tricky.
The state won’t give a score yet that will be used to predict whether a student is likely to spend another year in third-grade reading instruction.
However, using 2012 test results — before the tests got tougher this year — 17,079 third-graders scored low enough to have been considered for retention.
Some schools are looking at test results from two months ago and taking into account what is likely to be learned before the next round of tests to estimate how many students are at risk for retention.
Akron has identified 438 students, or about 25 percent of all third-graders, who would likely qualify for retention if scores do not improve.
Of those students, 163 have at least one learning disability — whether cognitive, behavioral or physical. These students took the test, scored below the state cutoff for advancement, and may or may not be held back because of their disabilities.
That leaves, conservatively, 275 students who are on track to repeat third grade, which means next year’s third-grade class could grow by 275 students.
Akron administrators can’t simply herd the retained students into one building and hire 11 more teachers to educate them. Retained students, instead, would continue to receive third-grade reading instruction while moving along in other subjects.
To accommodate the influx of retained students, Akron would be required to increase class sizes and inevitably divide any third-grade room that exceeds 30 students into two classes. That scenario has left some Akron administrators expecting additional teachers next year to be closer to 20.
“I think it’s going to have a huge ripple effect through multiple budgets, including staffing and intervention programs,” said Ellen McWilliams, director of curriculum and instruction, as well as assistant superintendent, for Akron schools.
When McWilliams received the preliminary results of the test, she noticed a dip in the number of students scoring proficient. Year-over-year scores dropped from 45 percent proficient to 38 percent, similar to a statewide drop from 64.6 percent last year to 56.9 percent this year, according to statistics that will be released in their entirety today.
McWilliams checked comparable schools across the state for context.
“Everyone that I contacted was in the range of a 3 percent drop to 9 percent drop,” McWilliams said.
Even affluent and typically higher-performing districts saw a decline in average test scores and said they believe the tougher test may be the reason.
“The state is taking out the non-Common Core questions. We were wondering if that played into it, but again our scores didn’t drop dramatically,” said Doreen Osmun, assistant superintendent for Hudson schools, which fell three percentage points.
State officials say the tests aren’t more difficult.
Although the new standards are more rigorous, and the state is selecting — for the first time — test questions aligned with those new standards, “The assessment would still maintain the same level of rigor to be consistent with all other preceding test forms that came before it,” said Sasheen Phillips, senior executive director for the Ohio Department of Education’s Center for Curriculum and Assessment.
During a conference call with reporters, Ohio Superintendent Richard Ross cautioned against being short-sighted regarding the fail rate. The cost for retaining children should pale in comparison to the consequences of passing along a student who cannot read, he said.
Lacking basic reading skills is a recipe for failure with costly consequences as early as high school, he said.
“One day they just don’t show up. They just fade away. Out of sight, out of mind, and that must stop,” Ross said.
When asked if the state has calculated the cost of the new standards, he said that it’s not about cost, but rather “allocation of resources.”
“That’s a question I hear often. Again, it goes back to the teaching across the subject areas and how we do teach reading and how we do structure schools,” Ross said, advocating the teaching of literacy in all subjects.
Earlier this year, the Beacon Journal used spring 2012 test scores to estimate the additional cost of retaining children who were not performing at an adequate level. In that analysis, 17,079 children scored low enough to qualify for retention. Unless they are brought up to grade level, taxpayers could expend an additional $123 million, based on the average cost to educate a student.
What happens in the spring, and next year when the entire test is aligned to the new standards, is unknown. One thing is sure, local school administrators have been told.
“There is going to be a drop, because we are raising the bar,” McWillliams said. “The Ohio Department of Education has been warning districts for the past two years. ... They’ve been bracing and preparing all districts that results are going to be lower.”
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org.