What can one objectively say when faced with the information that fully one quarter of the 3rd grade students who attend an IPS school failed the state-mandated I-Read 3 exam?
WTHR reported exactly that yesterday.
Records obtained by Eyewitness News (pdf) show one in four Marion County third graders – nearly 2,500 children – failed the mandatory exam. They get a second chance this summer.
Besides expressing obvious concern and wondering what exactly that means there is the more pressing realization that this particular testing outcome has rather dire consequences for students and school districts if school officials follow the policy recommendations coming out of the IN DOE: failure means retention in 3rd grade.
Steve Hinnefeld, a former reporter for the Bloomington Herald-Times, has written on his blog “School Matters” that
A DOE web page explaining IREAD-3 says the test results from the legislature’s approval of “Public Law 109, which ‘requires the evaluation of reading skills for students who are in grade three beginning in the Spring of 2012 to ensure that all students can read proficiently before moving on to grade four.’” It appears that many Indiana elementary schools have cut-and-pasted that language to their own websites.
Hinnefeld stresses the fallacy of equating that policy position to the language found in the law:
It’s not clear what the DOE is quoting in that statement, but it’s not quoting PL 109. What the law says, actually, is that the state superintendent and board of education shall develop a plan for improving early reading skills, including “a method for making determinant evaluations by grade 3 that might require remedial action for the student, including retention as a last resort, after other methods of remediation have been evaluated or used, or both, if reading skills are below the standard. Appropriate consultation with parents or guardians must be part of the plan.”
The issue now falls into a widening gulf between adherence to law and adherence to policy. This is a gulf that the DOE appears willing to widen:
In a recent public affairs program on WTIU in Bloomington, Wes Bruce, the department’s chief assessment officer, explained IREAD-3 this way: “The legislature chose to put in place a law that mandated this test and made third grade the benchmark.”
But the law does not mandate retention and rather suggests it only as a “last resort.”
As the law reads school officials can ignore the DOE mandated retention and still be in compliance.
What might be more broadly at issue here is attaching even the idea of retention to a single performance on a single assessment. A further concern for educators in Marion county is the fact that there are over 40 languages spoken by the residents. What is narrowly assessed then is English Language competence and so nearly amounts to a kind of “nationalization” exam.
Finally, it’s well-researched and concluded that retention always yields a negative personal and social effect on students. From the Center for Development and Learning:
In fact, retention was found to be one of the most powerful predictors of high school dropout, with retained students 2 to 11 times more likely to drop out of high school than promoted students. Furthermore, the retained students are less likely to receive a high school diploma by age 20, receive poorer educational competence ratings, and are also less likely to be enrolled in post-secondary education of any kind. These youth also receive lower educational and employment status ratings and are paid less per hour at age 20. (See link for research references.)
This leaves one to question the intentions of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett and the Department of Education. It’s hard to believe that the overwhelming evidence against retention wasn’t known by Bennett & Company. What purpose did they believe it would serve?
Governor Mitch Daniels has described the intended effect of the policy as ending “the cruel, defeatist practice of passing children who cannot read into fourth grade,” while the truth might be that the policy rather extends the cruel and defeatist practice of the social denigration of difference leading to clear segregation.
There are always deeper questions regarding the value of testing and even the arguable advantages of literacy. These aren’t in question here so much as the confusion and deception on offer by the Indiana Department of Education.
photo credit: The U.S. Army’s photostream