Posted in IREAD-3, Testing

More Than a Test Score

IREAD-3

Test scores have been released. Indiana’s third grade reading test (IREAD-3) scores show a decline in reading achievement for third graders state wide and locally.

3rd-grade reading ability slips: All local districts decline, as does statewide average

Scores were slightly lower across the board this year for a statewide test that measures third-graders’ reading ability, data released Friday show.

All four Allen County public school districts saw their passing rates decline, mirroring a dip in the statewide average of 84.2 percent from 85.6 percent last year.

The test passing rates for each Allen County, Indiana public school system, as well as the rate from last year, were listed…

Third-grade reading test results reported

Southwest Allen County Schools (SACS) — 89.0% passed, compared with 89.7% in 2014;
Northwest Allen County Schools (NACS) — 90.1% passed, compared with 91.9% in 2014;
Fort Wayne Community Schools (FWCS) — 72.5% passed, compared with 74.5% in 2014;
East Allen County Schools (EACS) — 78.2% passed, compared with 82.5% in 2014.

So all four public school systems in Allen County “mirror” the state’s drop in IREAD-3 scores. The declines are small…but are they significant*? We’re not told. We’re also not reminded that the students who took the test in 2014 are not the same children who took the test in 2015 and therefore comparisons between the two are questionable.

[*Significance, validity, and reliability actually mean something when we’re discussing standardized tests and using the results to label, blame, and punish. Do members of the Indiana state legislature, members of the state board of education, or the governor know what they mean?]

POVERTY

An interesting, yet consistent fact is the highest scores in the county were made by the two school systems with the lowest free and reduced lunch rate, a standard measure of school/child poverty level. SACS has free/reduced rates of 11.3%/3.6% and NACS has free/reduced rates of 11.3%/6.1%. FWCS and EACS have rates of 57.9%/8.2% and 42.5%/7.4% respectively.

Does the IREAD-3 test measure reading achievement, or socio-economic status?

The pattern is similar state-wide. There are a few outliers, but in general the pattern of low poverty schools scoring high, and high poverty schools scoring low, is consistent. For example, 99.3% of third graders in North West Hendricks Schools, with a free/reduced rate of 13.5%/6.6% passed IREAD-3. By contrast, only 53.7% of third grade students in Indianapolis Public Schools passed, with a free/reduced rate of 72.4%/3.4%.

Feel free to check out some yourself…you can find the free/reduced rates of Indiana’s school systems, and schools here:

Indiana DOE Compass

And a list of the IREAD-3 pass rates here:

Sortable Table: Find Your District’s Spring 2015 IREAD-3 Pass Rate

Take a look at cities like Gary, South Bend, and East Chicago, compared to a place like Carmel or Porter Township.

VALID AND RELIABLE?

What exactly does the IREAD-3 test measure?

According to the Indiana DOE web site, the purpose of IREAD-3

is to measure foundational reading standards through grade three.

Looking through the web site we can’t find much about the validity* and reliability* of the test, however, which would seem to me to be fairly important, considering that third graders can be forced to repeat third grade reading instruction if they don’t pass.

Indeed, I’m not the only one who has had trouble finding this information. Indiana Parents For Fair Testing also couldn’t locate information about the validity and reliability of IREAD-3.

IREAD-3 has been inadequately piloted prior to its use. With no public information available about the test’s validity or reliability, parents can not evaluate whether or not the test does what it purports to do.

Is the IREAD-3 valid and reliable? Perhaps. Like other standardized tests published recently, we’ll have to take their word for it because it’s illegal to see the tests and review them. Without established validity and reliability how do we know that IREAD-3 measures what it purports to measure?

LABELS

Returning to the Indiana DOE web site, we see that a passing score on IREAD-3 is a score of 446. One would hope that classroom teachers get more information than this…although, with only a few days left to the school year it’s not clear what Mr. Smith, for example, can do for Sally who got a score of 425. She’s either going to have to take third grade reading instruction again (if it didn’t work the first time what changes are going to be made to have it work next time?) or retake the test during the summer window (June 1 through July 24) after somehow learning what she didn’t learn the first time.

Indiana no longer provides funding for remediation. That money now goes to pay for more testing. Mr. Smith could volunteer to tutor Sally, Sally’s parents could pay him to tutor her, or send her to another tutor…but, perhaps, like many low scoring children, Sally’s parents haven’t got the money to pay someone to tutor her. What then?

In the meantime, Sally, along with other Hoosier children, are labeled as failures and will have to repeat instruction or repeat a grade (which doesn’t work).

And it’s all based on one test…

  • which likely measures a child’s socio-economic level more than his/her reading achievement
  • with unknown reliability and validity
  • with arbitrary cut scores

…and this is how we educate 8 and 9 year olds in Indiana…

HOW ABOUT THIS INSTEAD…

  • Stop using one or two standardized tests (IREAD-3 and ISTEP+) to completely evaluate a child’s level of learning…especially tests which are questionable in quality.
  • End retention in grade, especially when it’s based on just one test like the IREAD-3. It doesn’t work. It’s never worked. It’s a failed “remediation.” [See the recent excellent blog post by Russ Walsh, Retaining 3rd Graders: Child Abuse, Mississippi Style (NOTE: It’s not just Mississippi).]
  • Hold policy makers responsible for the level of poverty and other out-of-school-factors which have an impact on achievement in the nation, state, city, and school district. Children are not the only ones at fault. Parents are not the only ones at fault. Teachers are not the only ones at fault. Understand that there are out-of-school-factors which weigh heavily on student achievement. 
  • Give local educators and school boards a voice in how to evaluate children’s learning instead of relying on the political winds in the legislature, state board of education, and governor’s mansion.

That would be a start.

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The narrow pursuit of test results has sidelined education issues of enduring importance such as poverty, equity in school funding, school segregation, health and physical education, science, the arts, access to early childhood education, class size, and curriculum development. We have witnessed the erosion of teachers’ professional autonomy, a narrowing of curriculum, and classrooms saturated with “test score-raising” instructional practices that betray our understandings of child development and our commitment to educating for artistry and critical thinking. And so now we are faced with “a crisis of pedagogy”–teaching in a system that no longer resembles the democratic ideals or tolerates the critical thinking and critical decision-making that we hope to impart on the students we teach.

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Stop the Testing Insanity!
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Author:

Retired after 35 years in public education.