RFSD third-grade reading skills decline
Third-grade reading test scores are cause for celebration, say local schools. Not so, says the state – they’re reading below the state average. According to the Colorado Department of Education, in Roaring Fork School District Re-1, third-graders’ reading proficiency based on CSAP scores is 7 percent below the state average of 70 percent. But the state average isn’t important, said Superintendent Fred Wall, because federal standards are all that count. The Colorado Student Assessment Program test is a standardized test administered to nearly all public school students in third through 10th grades. It’s used to assess a school’s overall performance and goes into state report card calculations.The third-grade reading test is given earlier than CSAP tests for other grades, and results are being released before students step up to fourth grade so that schools can determine if students will need extra help in reading next year, said Dr. Dianne Lefly, supervisor of measurement of student assessment for the Colorado Department of Education in Denver. To accurately gauge how well a student is reading and how well a school is teaching reading, the state counts only those students who tested “proficient” or “advanced” on the CSAP reading test, she said. Preliminary CSAP reading test results released by CDE this week show a slight decline statewide, but in the Roaring Fork School District, Sopris and Crystal River elementary schools each showed at least an 11 percent decline in the number of students who tested either proficient or advanced in reading. Glenwood Springs Elementary showed a 2 percent decline. The number of “proficient” and “advanced” students declined by 16 percent at Sopris Elementary, where 18 percent of its students are listed as unsatisfactory for reading, up from 4 percent in 2005. Crystal River Elementary showed an 11 percent increase in students testing “unsatisfactory” over the previous year, while Glenwood Elementary’s students who tested as such increased by only 1 percent. GSES students testing “proficient” declined by 7 percent. Bad news is good newsDespite the below-average test scores, local schools are saying the bad news is good news, since RFSD is including the “partially proficient” category in their calculations because “partially proficient” is considered progress for Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP, under the No Child Left Behind Act. But according to Lefly, that’s not what’s important in determining if students can read well before going on to the fourth grade. “I don’t know why they’re doing that,” she said of RFSD. AYP, “that’s a whole different thing than what this is.”Wall said he disagrees because the state’s standards, which are more stringent than federal standards, don’t count, because for local schools to be accredited, achieving AYP under the federal No Child Left Behind Act is all that counts. “The state is more restrictive,” Wall said. “But when it comes down to it, it really doesn’t mean anything.” The state must follow federal guidelines for school accreditation, therefore RFSD announces its scores including those of students testing “partially proficient.”By RFSD’s gauge, third-graders at GSES showed an 11 percent gain in reading ability over their counterparts the year before. Sopris showed a 3 percent gain, while Crystal River third-graders showed a 10 percent drop in reading proficiency. Given the state’s assessment of the district’s CSAP scores, Assistant Superintendent Judy Haptonstall said there’s no cause for panic because the results are only preliminary. CDE warned journalists this week that the test results are preliminary because ethnic and biographical information about students who took the test has not been reviewed for errors, even though some schools, including GSES, sent some of the data home to parents. The ethnic breakdown of the scores shows gains for both Anglos and Latinos. That information, which could change and contradict statistics that have been sent home, will be official in August. Haptonstall said RFSD’s preliminary biographical data shows that, despite students’ decline in reading proficiency according to the state’s progress gauge, most students actually improved. “Third-grade reading scores showed increased scores for Anglo students from the previous year at all schools except Sopris Elementary,” she said. Likewise for Latino students. Overall, Sopris Elementary showed a 12 percent increase in the number of students testing unsatisfactory in reading, up to 18 percent in 2006 from 4 percent in 2005. While that may not seem to make sense, Haptonstall said, the fluctuations can be blamed on an increase in the number of students taking the test, she said. “It’s a statistical anomaly,” she said. “The group size is bigger. … When I look at groups of students, they went up remarkably (in reading proficiency). When you look at an average of something, it really doesn’t tell you what the reality is.”GSES Principal Sonya Hemmen said she’s celebrating the gains her school made. She said the fact that 93 percent of her third-graders tested partially proficient, proficient or advanced in reading is something to be proud of. “I think this is a great snapshot of how the third grade does,” she said. “We were pleased with the results,” because an increase from 2005 in the number of students testing partially proficient – 13 percent – counts as growth.
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Grace Wesseling is an animal lover, a cheerleader of seven years and another soon-to-be graduate of Bridges High School, class of 2021.