OKLAHOMA CITY (May 9, 2014) – About 80 percent of Oklahoma third-graders are eligible to be promoted to fourth-grade based on the state’s reading test scores, according to figures released today to Oklahoma school districts and elementary schools. Sixteen percent of third-graders scored Unsatisfactory but will have two additional opportunities to demonstrate basic reading skills through a student portfolio or an alternative reading assessment provided for under the state’s Reading Sufficiency Act (RSA).
Under the RSA, schools now will determine which third-grade students qualify for one of the law’s good-cause exemptions to allow promotion to fourth-grade. Students who scored Unsatisfactory will have the summer to take alternate tests and attend summer reading academies. Teachers can provide portfolios of a child’s work to show he or she can read at grade level.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Janet Barresi thanked teachers in pre-kindergarten through third-grade for their tremendous work in helping to ensure every child is able to read.
“Nothing is more fundamental to a child’s education than the ability to read, and it is our responsibility to educators to see to it that all children have the resources necessary to gain this vital skill before they slip further and further behind. We are moving in the right direction,” Barresi said.
“The strong numbers for proficient readers attest to the hard work and tenacity of our children and their teachers. In the three years since the enactment of the RSA’s retention portion, teachers have devoted countless hours and leant their expertise to improving reading instruction for children. They have done superbly.”
“Doomsday predictions from some critics of RSA had suggested that anywhere from 25 to 40 percent of our third-graders would score Unsatisfactory. But Oklahoma teachers and schoolchildren were, and are, up for the challenge.”
Statewide, scores for the third-grade reading Oklahoma Core Curriculum Test (OCCT) were as follows:
1,120 — or 2.2 percent — scored Advanced
32,531 — or 64 percent — scored Proficient
7,070 — or 13.9 percent — scored Limited Knowledge
7,970 — or 15.7 percent — scored Unsatisfactory
The RSA includes special exemptions for students with disabilities, English Language Learners and students who have been retained twice. When these good-cause exemptions are factored in, the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) anticipates the number of students facing retention to decrease significantly.
Four percent did not take the test for various reasons (absent, no longer enrolled, etc.).
One of the more dramatic successes to emerge from the RSA concerns students on Individualized Education Plans, or IEPs. Although 11.38 percent of third-graders last year scored Unsatisfactory on the reading test, it is important to note that 6.5 percent more students took the exam this year. That’s because this marked Oklahoma’s first year in which first-time test takers on an IEP did not have the option of taking a modified test. Oklahoma is one of the last states to phase out use of modified tests for students on an IEP.
Although about 3,000 more students with disabilities took the reading portion of the OCCT than in previous years, the percentage of Unsatisfactory scores rose by only 4 percent. Barresi credited that feat to extraordinary work of teachers.
She also praised the efforts of OSDE literacy (or REAC3H) Coaches. The coaches have traveled throughout the state, offering professional development in classrooms and training teachers, administrators and reading specialists to help their students improve reading skills.
“I need to give a big pat on the back to our REAC3H coaches,” Barresi said. “They have helped work miracles. I hear nothing but praise for them from educators from all across the state.”
Challenges face the state’s largest school districts. 32.7 percent of Tulsa third-graders scored Unsatisfactory, while 28.9 percent of Oklahoma City’s third-graders scored Unsatisfactory.
“The scores reveal the extent of the considerable work that will be needed in these districts, but great strides are being made,” Barresi said. “Teachers are committed to helping these students. There can be no option but to get these kids on track for literacy.”
The superintendent said educators recognize that many students who scored Unsatisfactory and do not meet a good-cause exemption may be anxious about what’s ahead.
“We want to reassure these students and their families that we will do everything possible to support the efforts to ensure they can read on grade level so they can have the earliest chance of promotion,” she said.
A number of school districts have scheduled summer reading academies, while others have put “transitional” grades in place. Some districts indicate they are considering mid-year promotion.
“An individual who isn’t given the opportunity to learn how to read is denied an opportunity to be a fully contributing citizen. Not only is that individual harmed, but our society is made the worse for it. If you cannot read, you cannot be enthralled by Charlotte’s Web. You cannot marvel at the genius of the Declaration of Independence. You cannot read the word of the Lord in the Bible,” said Barresi. “When Gov. Fallin and state legislators strengthened the RSA three years ago, they did so to ensure all our children have the gift of literacy.”
Third-graders who score Unsatisfactory on state tests and benchmark assessments are reading at about a first-grade level or below. First-graders proficient in reading can read simple words at the rate of about 60 words per minute. Fourth-graders, however, are expected to read 120 to 150 words per minute, and with more difficult text. They must read fluently for comprehension versus just learning to decode words.
Established in 1997, the RSA requires districts to conduct benchmark reading assessments at the start of kindergarten, first, second and third grades. A district must implement customized remediation plans for students with reading difficulties.
Although the law was in place for 17 years and funded by more than $80 million, the number of third-graders with reading difficulties was not showing improvement.
With the 2011 addition of the amendment on third-grade retention, many school districts have redoubled their efforts to help children read on grade level.
Starting Monday, Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) literacy staff and REAC3H Coaches will be manning telephone hotlines for educators and parents who have questions concerning the application of the RSA.
The RSA Hotlines will be active from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays from Monday through Friday, May 23.
Parents and community members can call (405) 521-3774 to leave comments or questions. The line will be monitored, with responses provided in a timely fashion.
District personnel who have questions should call (405) 521-3301, the main OSDE helpdesk line. Questions will be answered or calls routed to appropriate staff.
Of course, districts and parents are still welcome to contact OSDE for additional help after that period.