Thursday, November 16, 2000

Fourth grade test argued

Teachers question 'guarantee' rule

By Andrea Tortora
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        As state lawmakers prepare to reshape the way the Fourth Grade Proficiency Test is used and administered, educators in the Tristate's largest school district say the exam should be used as it was intended — to measure how well students read.

        The exam, say reading teachers and administrators, should not be used strictly as a way to promote students to the next grade.

        Yet beginning with the 2001-02 school year, the state's “fourth-grade reading guarantee” goes into effect.

        That means a student not passing the reading portion of the test will be held back unless the teacher and principal agree the student is ready for fifth grade.

        Cincinnati Public Schools teacher Nancy Grow taught in the district's mandatory summer school for students who failed a third-grade reading test last spring.

        “I think something should be left to teacher and parent judgment on the placement of a child,” she said. “A test should not be the "end all and be all' for placement.”

        A bill introduced in the Ohio Senate Tuesday calls for lowering the passing score on the fourth-grade test and removing sections on science and citizenship.

        At the same time, a subcommittee of the Governor's Commission for Student Success recommends several changes: Spread out the test's subject exams over three years and three grade levels. Get rid of the mandatory rule that a student who fails the test does not get promoted to fifth grade.

        The commission, charged with reviewing state education standards, won't make final recommendations until December, Ohio Department of Education spokeswoman Patti Grey said.

        Melanie Bates, Ohio Board of Education member, said the bill filed Tuesday is likely an attempt to use the test in the way it was intended and to give parents more useful information about their child's performance.

        “There's been lots of confusion regarding the test and the cut score and the intent, and I know that we are trying very hard to find a way to make this a test that is meaningful,” Ms. Bates said.

        Carrie Smith, a seventh- and eighth-grade language arts teacher at North Fairmount School, said giving the test at the start of the year and again at year's end would help teachers assess students' reading ability and work with them throughout the year.

        Ms. Smith also taught in the summer school program.

        “I think students would pass if it were done in this way,” Ms. Smith said. “Kids are stressed out about this, and teachers are, too. There's no need for it.

        “But we do need something to hold teachers and students accountable.”

        State education officials expect numerous amendments and proposals to surface in Columbus before any hard decisions are made.

        No matter what changes are legislated from Columbus, school districts like Cincinnati Public will continue to prepare students for the fourth-grade exam.

        Last summer, Cincinnati instituted a “third-grade reading guar antee” that required students attend summer school if they failed a reading exam. Students who did not pass the test after summer school were not promoted to the fourth grade.

        Kathleen Ware, associate superintendent, said the district hopes to increase pass rates on the reading test by providing extra help for students.

        “While four tests are given, only one is required to be passed to be promoted, and that's reading,” Ms. Ware said.

        Yet Ms. Ware and others think the state's passing score is too high. The state calls for students to achieve a 217. In its program, Cincinnati uses the lower cutoff score of 200 and will increase that score to 210 this year and 217 next year.

        “The state is now making this a high-stakes test, and it wasn't before,” Ms. Ware said. “The state needs to look at the score and determine what score allows us to predict a student's future success.”

        Ms. Grow, who teaches kindergarten at Roberts Paideia, said she taught reading in summer school to students who scored within a few points of the 200 mark.

        “Human judgment must come in,” she said, “Especially when students score within one point of the cutoff.”


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