GREENFIELD — As administrators and third-grade teachers head into the second year of the IREAD exams later this month, they do so with less trepidation than last year, when students took the must-pass reading test for the first time.
“Last year as teachers, we were scared of the unknown,” McCordsville Elementary third-grade teacher Dan Keeler said. “This year, we feel much more at ease as we know what to expect from the test itself and from the students.”
Of the 903 county third-graders who took the IREAD exam last spring, only 12 county students didn’t move up to the fourth grade.
Educators have noted kindergarten though third-grade students are primarily learning to read. But beginning in fourth grade, students must be able to read to learn. Based on the Indiana Academic Standards, IREAD specifically tests foundational reading standards through third grade.
“We know that the main tested areas include phonics, vocabulary, and the student’s ability to glean information from both non-fiction and literary text,” Southern Hancock curriculum director Rhonda Peterson said.
Two-thirds of the test assesses comprehension skills, which is the ultimate goal in producing strong readers, Peterson said.
It’s why teachers like Keeler stress from the first day of classes the importance of the IREAD test. (The acronym stands for Indiana Reading Evaluation and Determination.)
“The students are very aware from day one of third grade that if they do not pass IREAD 3 then they must repeat the third grade,” Keeler said.
The schools are trying to make sure students are ready for the test, which will be given March 18-20. For example, 60 Greenfield-Central students who tested below grade level have been getting one-to-one tutoring three days a week since September through United Way’s ReadUP program.
And at Eastern Hancock Elementary School, 13 third-graders are in the last leg of an after-school program designed to give them every chance to succeed on IREAD.
For the past seven weeks, the students have been drilling four days a week on test-taking strategies and developing the concentration skills needed to read, comprehend and respond to the test’s long reading passages.
One afternoon this week, students seated at low tables read along with EH third-grade teacher Julie Dickmander as she guided them through a test skill. They used color-coded cards to display their answers to the multiple-choice questions posed by Dickmander.
“Which of the following words have the same beginning sound as ‘shrink?” Dickmander asked.
Immediately, 13 small, whispering voices began to sound out “sshhhrrr’’ repeatedly – one of the test skills they are learning – and then the cards begin to go up with most of the group choosing the word “shrimp” from “shirt” and “sure.”
After a round of positive reinforcement, the correct selection is explained with Dickmander’s added caution: “Remember, they’re going to try to trick you.”
“Some of them just need confidence,” said EH Elementary School Principal Amanda Pyle. “If they think they can do it, they can do it.”
So far, seven of the students have shown high growth from the beginning of the first-year program, with three performing as expected and only three progressing in the low-growth category, Pyle said.
Based on that information, 85 percent are expected to pass IREAD, she said.
Dickmander’s coaching partner, Lauren Barker, also an EH third-grade teacher, said not only have the sessions enhanced the kids’ test-taking skills, but the pilot program has improved class performance as well.
“After being here, you wouldn’t know they are shy or lacking in confidence,” Barker said. “Their hands go up, and they’re helping the other students as well.”
“To see them blossoming, it’s just exciting,” Dickmander said.
When asked whether they were intimidated by the looming battery of tests, the whispering gave way to a unified “no,” with many in the room saying they were excited to take the test.
While educators say the assessment is fair, it’s a double whammy for the third-graders who must gear up for another high stakes test right after taking the all-important ISTEP.
“I really wish they’d come up with just one test for the third-graders,” McCordsville Elementary School Principal Dan Denbo said.
Peterson said that would be a great idea for the students and the state.
“It’s very costly for the state to develop and score an assessment for all third-grade students,” Peterson said.
Spending money in another manner would be wiser, and better for the students, she said.
“Districts already have many assessments at their fingertips that inform us when students are not reading at grade level,” she pointed out.
As long as educators can prove they are utilizing those tools and are communicating with parents, Peterson said districts should be exempt from the assessment.
For now, students will have to score above 446 points to move on to fourth grade.
The Indiana Department of Education is strongly encouraging the retention of students who don’t meet the requirements, but Peterson said third grade really is too late to retain a student who is having trouble with reading.
“Retention should be utilized as early as possible, preferably in pre-K or kindergarten,” she said.
Test results are expected sometime in April.