By Jennifer Mrozowski and Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Less then half of Ohio's fourth-graders - 45 percent - passed the state's fourth-grade reading test on their first try this year, according to results released Thursday by the Ohio Department of Education.
Results from Greater Cincinnati districts generally mirror the state, but range from a low of 21 percent scoring "proficient" or above (Cincinnati Public Schools) to a high of 85 percent (Wyoming).
The scores are important because they are one of 22 indicators on state report cards that measure a district's effectiveness.
While students won't be held back for not passing, districts must provide intervention such as tutoring or after-school programs for those who fail, and allow them to take the test again.
State officials said the percentage of students passing is encouraging.
"It's good news in that 45 percent - almost half of students - are reading at the fourth-grade level (in October) that they're expected to read at by the end of the year," said Shelly Lehman, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Education.
Students who didn't pass in October can take the test in March and July.
The percentage passing is up 1 percentage point from last year. However, this year's October scores aren't directly comparable to last year's October scores for two reasons:
Special education students' reading scores for the first time had to be included. That's a requirement under Ohio legislation passed in 2001.
Last year's October passing results included students who had taken the fourth-grade test in third grade. About 40,000 fourth-graders last year had already taken the reading test in third grade and about 10,000 of those had passed by October.
Ted Knapke is superintendent at Wyoming, which posted the highest passing rate of 49 districts in Butler, Clermont, Hamilton and Warren counties.
Historically, he said, Wyoming has looked at assessments at the end of each quarter in math and reading, in particular, and used that information to determine where weaknesses are and provide intervention, if necessary.
For three years, the district has sponsored a before-school intervention program where teachers spend time outside their day working with students on those weaknesses. Like many districts, Wyoming also offers a summer intervention program.
"We have some very supportive parents and kids who do a lot of reading on their own," Mr. Knapke said. "You can't attribute it to any one factor."
Cincinnati Public School officials say they expected that this year's scores would be lower than last year's 27 percent passing rate because of the inclusion of special education students' results.
Michael O'Laughlin, Cincinnati's director of curriculum, said the district in the past two years has launched an intensive teacher-training program to improve literacy with an emphasis on early literacy. For example, kindergarten and first-grade teachers are learning how to assess students' reading skills using periodic in-class diagnostic tests.
The tests pinpoint students' weaknesses. The district then trains teachers on how to address those weaknesses.
"We can assess kids all we want, but unless we know how to intervene we're not going to get anywhere," Mr. O'Laughlin said.
Intervention could include grouping students in class by their needs, such as phonemic awareness, and giving those students intense group work in areas where they are deficient.
Students also could receive out-of-class tutoring or individual tutoring by a trained teacher aide.
"I believe this is really going to help us see significant results," he said.
Richard Scherer, superintendent of Three Rivers Local Schools, is pleased with the district's score of 53 percent. "As a first set of numbers, that's not bad. We did better than the state average."
The district will provide intervention for all students who didn't pass the first time out.
"We'll look at those kids who came very close and assume most of those kids are going to make it before summer," he said. "We think we'll end up somewhere up in the 80s."
In Butler County, Lakota's fourth-graders scored highest with a district average of 68 percent at the proficient level or above.
At Lakota's Union Elementary, 73 percent of fourth-graders scored at proficient or higher. Assistant Principal Gerri Bolin attributed the high scores to outstanding teachers and the four-block reading method used throughout the district.
Each day, students in grades 1-3 receive 2‡ hours of reading instruction. Part of that block is spent in guided reading, student selected books, writing and working with words.
"In the fourth grade, we're departmentalized so we have one teacher who teaches reading," Ms. Bolin said. "The (fourth-grade) students spend 45 minutes a day in reading, in addition to their language arts class."
Students needing assistance spend their 45 minutes of reading instruction in a small-group setting with a reading specialist.
Though state officials said they're encouraged by overall passing rates, the exams revealed troubling disparities in the percentages of African-Americans, white and Hispanic students passing the test.
While 51 percent of white students scored "proficient" or above, just 31 percent of Hispanic students and 19 percent of African-American students reached those levels.
Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act signed in January, schools next year will have to show improvement in subgroups, such as special education students and African-American students. The rate of improvement has not yet been determined, but state officials say they expect the rate to be announced in January.
If schools don't show adequate improvement, they suffer sanctions. For example, underachieving schools could be required to allow students to transfer to another school, or the schools could be required to offer students tutoring services.
For additional information, go online at www.ode.state.oh.us/
Sue Kiesewetter contributed to this report.
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