By Maureen Hayden CNHI Statehouse Bureau
---- — INDIANAPOLIS – More Indiana third-graders are passing the state’s reading proficiency test, but students who live in poverty or don’t speak English as their native language are failing the test at a higher rate than their counterparts.
Final results of the state’s IREAD-3 test, released Wednesday, also show a racial disparity: Just over 94 percent of white students passed the test, while only 81.5 percent of black students did. Just over 85 percent of Hispanic students passed the test.
The numbers released Wednesday also reflect a rise in test scores for those students who received intensive remediation over the summer after failing the IREAD-3 the first time they took it in the spring. Overall, 86.1 percent of Indiana third-graders passed IREAD-3 last spring; after the test was re-administered in the summer to students who’d received the extra help, the final overall pass rate went up to 91.4 percent.
When the test was administered in 2012 – the first year for the test – just over 90 percent of third-graders passed, including students who had to re-take the test.
The Indiana Reading Evaluation and Determination assessment, known as IREAD-3, is given to third-graders in March. Part of Indiana’s sweeping education reform efforts, it’s aimed at identifying students who need intensive help before they can move on to fourth grade.
The state’s test results were released by the Indiana Department of Education, with a brief statement from Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz, who’s been a sharp critic of the IREAD-3 test.
In it, the Democrat Ritz thanked “the many educators and families who are making reading proficiency a priority throughout Indiana.” But she made no mention of her so-far unsuccessful efforts to eliminate the test, which was introduced by her predecessor, Republican Tony Bennett.
Ritz briefly mentioned the IREAD-3 results during a meeting of the Indiana State Board of Education Wednesday. The board has rebuffed efforts by Ritz to institute other reading measures that she’s argued would give teachers better information about an individual student’s progress in reading proficiency. During the meeting, the board also unanimously approved a resolution hiring its own executive director and staff — a measure that Ritz opposed.
While Ritz has argued that the IREAD-3 doesn’t give teachers enough information about individual students, the results do show is an “achievement gap” in reading scores that shows up when tests results are broken out by demographics and other factors.
For example, just 79 percent of students whose families have low enough incomes to qualify for the free and reduced lunch program passed the IREAD-3 test when it was given in March. The final pass rate went up to 86 percent after students who’d failed the March test went through intensive remediation at their schools and re-took the test this summer.
Just under 64 percent of students who don’t speak English as their native tongue — classified as “English language learners” — passed IREAD-3 when it was given in March. The pass rate went up by 10 points, to just over 74 percent after failing students received remediation and were tested again.
Janet Boyle, assistant director of the Center of Excellence in Leadership of Learning at the University of Indianapolis said the disparity in test results is a national issue.
“This is not just happening in Indiana,” Boyle said.
It’s a critical issue, though. Third grade is when students are expected to move from learning to read to reading to learn. “By the fourth grade, the curriculum expands to include science, social studies and other subjects where learning content becomes important,” Boyle said.
Boyle said the disparity issue is a difficult one for teachers to address. She noted that families who live in poverty, for example, change schools and school districts more often than their middle-class peers. That makes it more difficult for teachers to identify a student’s reading needs and track that student’s progress.
She also noted that multiple studies show that students who lag behind in their reading proficiency have difficulty catching up in higher grades without intervention and are at higher risk for failure.
“It doesn’t mean the door is closed for them,” Boyle said. “The game isn’t not over for them, but the clock is ticking.”
In her brief press announcing the IREAD-3 results, Ritz touted her Hoosier Family of Readers initiative, a voluntary program which had more than 127,000 participants this summer.
“The Department encourages schools to join the Hoosier Family of Readers by developing their own initiatives to promote and support reading outside of the school day,” the news release said.
Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.