Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Opinion

July 25, 2013

Reading test only a piece

The state Board of Education’s year-old policy to hold back any third-grader who can’t read seems, at first glance, like a good idea. After all, a child who can’t read is unlikely to succeed in school. Passing such a child on to the next grade would seem to be asking for trouble.

Former Gov. Mitch Daniels, who proposed ending “social promotion” of third-graders during his 2010 State of the State address, had a point when he said sending an illiterate child on to the fourth grade is unfair to the next teacher and perhaps even disastrous for the child. Educators freely admit that when a teenager finally loses interest in education, the problem can often be traced back to the child’s failure to master reading in elementary school.

The seeds of any child’s eventual success or failure are often planted young.

Still, it’s important to avoid simple solutions to complex problems.

Can we really conclude that a child is illiterate based solely on his or her performance on a single test? No one reading test should be that important.

Wednesday, we reported more than 200 area third-graders failed the IREAD-3 exam on their first try. At Kokomo School Corp., 1 in 3 third-graders failed the test in March.

But Kokomo school officials told us nearly all of their third-graders, 98 percent, passed the IREAD exam after remediation. They said students told them they didn’t know how to finish the test this past spring, which was administered for the first time online.

Most of the students told their teachers they didn’t understand how to scroll down to read the entire text, or even how to move from one question to the next.

Local educators urged the state to leave the decisions about which students should be held back in local hands. Judging from Kokomo’s experience with the online exam, shouldn’t we then look at each child individually, examining the factors and bits of data that say whether a child might benefit from another year in the third grade?

There are other ways to help struggling students catch up.

Every child deserves a chance at success, and we should be doing everything we can to make sure students don’t become frustrated and drop out before they finish high school.

But there are no quick fixes.

The state should give schools the tools they need to help students succeed, but it shouldn’t tie their hands with arbitrary requirements.

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