Friday, March 09, 2001

Much is riding on reading exam

By Andrea Tortora
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Brittany Hibbart and Careze Mizell are getting ready to take Monday's big reading test.

        The two Heberle School third-graders know that a lot is riding on this test — including their summers.

        They have been working all year on reading, writing and test-taking skills, said their teacher, Renita Lewis. Their performance on the proficiency test determines if they can go on to fourth grade next year or if they must attend six weeks of summer school and retake the test.

[photo] Careze Mizell, 8, a Heberle School third-grader, contemplates a worksheet while studying for Monday's reading proficiency test.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
| ZOOM |
        Brittany, 9, said she is not too nervous. “We've been working on stories and taking quizzes,” she said.

        Careze, 8, shakes his head and gives a sheepish smile. Is he worried about the test? “Maybe a little bit,” he says.

        All Cincinnati Public Schools make their third- and second-graders take proficiency tests in reading as part of the district's “third-grade guarantee,” which states that all third-graders will be reading by the end of third grade.

        Students who don't pass the third-grade reading test won't be promoted to the fourth grade.

        The district's efforts are designed to get students ready for the state's fourth-grade reading guarantee, which will hold back students who fail the reading portion of the Ohio Proficiency Test.

        Cincinnati students who score below a 210 must attend six weeks of summer school.

        The district plans to increase its cutoff score each year until it reaches the state's passing grade of 217. Last year, students needed a 200 or better to avoid summer school. Next year, they'll need a 217.

        This is the second year for the district's reading guarantee. Last year, 42 percent of second-graders and 20 percent of third-graders failed the test. Of those 2,466 students, 83 percent attended the summer school.

        By October, 60 percent of those students had passed the reading test.

        At Heberle last year, 60 third-graders attended summer school for reading, and all but three passed the reading test afterward.

        Rosa Blackwell, deputy superintendent, said she expects more students to pass the exam this year because schools such as Heberle were vigilant about boosting reading skills.

        Heberle uses Success for All, a reading program that requires 90 minutes of reading skills each school day. The program offers daily tutoring for students who need extra help and provides extensive reading and diagnostic materials.

        Janice Pitts, a Heberle reading facilitator, said all third-graders took the reading test in October so teachers could see who needed work and in what areas.

        “The students know what score they had last time, and we let them see how close they were,” Ms. Pitts said. “The kids know if they don't pass, they'll have to go to summer school, and we don't have air conditioning.”

        So students such as Brittany, Careze and Raymond Johnson, 9, spend a lot of time reading stories with classmates, taking quizzes about the stories on computers, practicing test questions and talking about main themes and plots.

        “All we do is geared toward the testing,” Ms. Lewis said. “We practice with versions of the test so they are familiar with those types of questions.”

        Students who need extra help, such as Careze, get daily 20-minute tutoring sessions.

        “You read stories and they teach you stuff,” he said. “I learn how to skip a word and go back and figure out what the word means.”

        This year, students have an extra incentive to do well. Community members and parents are putting their money where their mouths are. Any student who passes all five parts of the Ohio Proficiency Test — reading, writing, math, science and citizenship — gets $100. Those who pass four parts get $50.

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