Literacy scores unfair, Springfield superintendent says

The Ohio Department of Education released its K-3 Literacy Grades to the 2014 state report cards earlier this month. Those grades measure how districts help students in grades kindergarten through third grade improve from “not-on-track” to “on-track.”

Students who are able to read by the end of third grade were three times more likely to graduate than those not reading proficiently, according to an ODE investigation of 2013 graduates.

“It reinforces the reason why we’ve adopted the Third Grade Reading Guarantee,” said ODE spokesman John Charlton.

For the 2014 report card grades, the state used results from fall reading diagnostic tests taken in kindergarten through third grade and results from the third grade reading assessment to measure if students were improving.

Under Ohio’s new Third-Grade Reading Guarantee, students who didn’t reach a promotion score on the Ohio Achievement Assessment exam were for the first time at risk of repeating third grade. There were exceptions, like qualifying for a waiver, or passing either the state reading test or an approved alternative test.

The guarantee is essentially an intervention policy which helps districts assess students’ reading skills to see if they’re at grade level, Charlton said. If they aren’t, schools must provide students extra support to become proficient readers.

“It’s important we’re recognizing schools who are helping kids that have been identified as ‘off-track’ or ‘not-on-track’ back to ‘on-track,’ ” Charlton said.

The Springfield City School District received a C on its K-3 Literacy grade, with 43.7 percent of its students improving from not-on-track to on-track.

The results are determined by each student reaching the same level by the end of the third grade, which Springfield City School District Superintendent David Estrop says is unfair.

“Children develop at different rates at different times,” Estrop said. “It’s more of the No Child Left Behind nonsense, which says every child must arrive at the same place at the same time every time or you’re a failure. I don’t believe that. Kids mature at different times in different areas with different talents.”

While Springfield students struggled after the initial third grade test, once students attend summer school, the numbers improve dramatically. After the first test, about 80 percent of the district’s third graders were set to be promoted to fourth grade. Once students receive summer instruction, all but four percent were promoted.

The K-3 literacy grades don’t take into account the summer session, Estrop said. He doesn’t expect the district’s C grade to improve in the future because it takes children longer to catch up.

“Now, because our numbers don’t increase fast enough and we don’t have all the children at that point, they’re saying we’re not getting it done,” Estrop said. “But at the end of the day, we do get it done. So why should they care? What makes this measure worth anything?”

The state’s biggest concern isn’t the school’s overall grade, but that each individual student can read at grade level by the time they complete third grade, Charlton said. By making reading a priority in the classroom, you’re helping students for the future, he added.

“If it takes 30 parents coming in and volunteers and summer school and everything else in order to help that student get on to grade level so they can be successful, then it doesn’t matter, it’s worth it,” Charlton said. “We want these kids to be able to read. Anything these school districts do to help them is something they should be complimented for.”

The Northeastern Local School District received a D on its report grade, but had issues with its testing process, said Northeastern Assistant Superintendent Shawn Blazer.

The state allowed school districts to choose the diagnostic test it administered to students the first year, Blazer said. The second year, ODE told schools they must use diagnostics on an approved list — meaning Northeastern had to use a different test.

The district has new measures in place, including tutoring during and after school, to provide more support to help students with reading.

“Next year, we’ll have a much truer comparison of where our kids stand,” Blazer said.

The district also didn’t have its students with disabilities on reading improvement plans because it already had a reading goal on their individual education plans, Blazer said. That caused a higher number of deductions for the district, he added.

“Repeating that process of documenting it again on a (reading improvement plan) didn’t indicate to us that it was necessary until we got further clarification from the ODE late in the year,” Blazer said.

The Greenon Local School District was the lone district to receive an A in both Clark and Champaign counties, one of 27 districts to receive an A throughout the state.

Enon Elementary School also received an A, while Hustead Elementary — which closed as part of a district restructuring due to budget this school year — received a B.

Greenon has focused on literacy over the last few years, using a mixture of programs, computers and small group instruction, said Mike Weaver, the second- through fourth-grade principal and director of curriculum and instruction.

“To us, reading is a gift that every child should receive,” Weaver said.

The Graham Local School District received a B grade, the highest in Champaign County. The district made several changes to its literacy program two years ago, including partnering with Ohio State University to become a literacy collaborative school, said Graham Elementary School Principal Chad Miller.

“The B shows we’re making progress, and we are closing that gap of kids who come to us with a deficit,” Miller said. “I’m proud of that and I think our staff is proud of that as well.”

West Liberty-Salem and Urbana didn’t receive a ranking because those districts had fewer than five percent of their kindergartners reported as being not-on-track.

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