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State considers tough third-grade reading standard, then backs off

UPDATE: After considering a much tougher third-grade reading standard for Ohio students Tuesday, the state school board backed off and made only a modest increase in the score students need to advance to fourth grade.

The board’s achievement and graduation committee had recommended raising the English Language Arts score required for 2018-19 third-graders to advance to fourth grade from 672 to 682. That resolution was rejected by the full board by a 9-7 vote, with three members absent.

The board then amended the resolution to set the cut score at 677, matching what the Ohio Department of Education had recommended. That resolution passed by a 16-0 vote. The law requires Ohio to raise the third-grade reading cut score each year so that it eventually matches the “proficiency” score of 700.

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On the first vote, board member Nick Owens, who represents Greene and Clark counties, voted in favor of the tougher 682 score. Pat Bruns, who represents Warren County, and Charlotte McGuire, who represents most of the rest of the Greater Dayton area, voted against it.

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EARLIER: The state school board’s achievement and graduation committee on Tuesday recommended significantly raising the reading score required for 2018-19 third-graders to advance to fourth grade.

The full state board will vote on the issue later Tuesday.

State law requires Ohio to gradually raise that promotion score, but the Ohio Department of Education had recommended a smaller increase. ODE wanted the required score to go from last year’s 672 to 677. But the school board committee approved a score of 682.

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State board member Kara Morgan of Dublin led the push for the higher cut score. She said that even at 682, the state would be far from the “proficiency” score of 700, and she believes it is time for the state to “push forward on the pace” to reach that standard.

Morgan said the state has had six years to adjust to the third-grade reading guarantee and has offered significant grant resources to help schools improve. She called the promotion score the lever that the state has to push school systems to provide stronger interventions to struggling students, and argued that students and schools would rise to the challenge of a higher standard.

Matt Jablonski, a northern Ohio teacher, quickly responded to Morgan on Twitter, arguing that the interventions are just a test prep “meat grinder.”

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“Standardized tests don’t promote achievement, they promote test prep and more testing, a narrowing of curriculum, demoralization of students and a negative perspective regarding school,” Jablonski wrote. “No data suggests that a generation of standardized tests has improved anything.”

State board member Pat Bruns, who represents Warren County and parts of Cincinnati, voted against the bigger increase. She said schools should get a year to prepare if a bigger change is coming.

Elizabeth Hess, an early literacy specialist for ODE, pointed to Florida data specifically about using an early literacy test cut score and mandatory interventions like Ohio’s system required. She said follow-up study has shown that students who received those interventions, years later, performed better academically than students who tested slightly better in those early years but did not receive interventions.

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State data from the spring 2017 test show that about 4,500 third-graders scored at least 677 on the test but not 682. Some of those students likely still would have been promoted to fourth grade via one of the approved alternate assessments.

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