“As things stand, about 17 percent of all the district’s third-graders face repeating the third grade, up from about 9 percent at this time last year,” The Columbus Dispatch reported in August.
The Akron, Canton, and Columbus school districts told the Ohio State School Board in July some of the tests appeared to be too difficult for their students. A CCS administrator told the board “she is bothered that students that don’t hit unfair score targets, known as cut scores, will be hurt by being held back,” Cleveland.com reported.
As of mid-August, more than 800 CCS students had not scored high enough to advance to fourth grade, and the Cleveland School District reported approximately half of its third graders had not done so. The state education department is examining the problem.
Sandra Stotsky, professor emerita in the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, helped develop widely praised academic state standards for the Massachusetts Department of Education (DOE). She says teachers, not tests, should judge students’ readiness to advance.
“I don’t understand why so many tests are being given to primary grade children and why cut scores should count more than the child’s teacher’s judgment on how well the child reads in grade 3, unless the teacher is brand-new and has no experience to draw on,” Stotsky said. “In Massachusetts, state tests were not used by schools for this purpose when I was at the DOE.
“I think a small panel of grade three or four teachers might be well used to determine borderline cases of children who haven’t made the cut score,” Stotsky said. “Why can’t a few experienced teachers decide?”
Maintaining the Standards
Greg Lawson, a research fellow at the Buckeye Institute, says it’s important not to dilute standards for the sake of schools’ reputations.
“I think one of the biggest concerns everybody has to have is the whole point of the third grade reading guarantee is that students can read and move on,” Lawson said. “I think a lot of times we try to water standards down in order to make schools feel better about themselves and what they’re accomplishing. I’m generally skeptical that we should be watering down those standards and certainly not doing so until there’s been a chance to dig in deeply [into the problem].
“I understand that there are costs to students and social issues, but I think it’s safe to say social promotion is not a good thing,” Lawson said. “When you start watering down standards, you have a problem there.”
Tori Hart ([email protected]) writes from Wilmette, Illinois.