McDaniel – Third-grade assessments don’t tell whole story

Sean McDaniel

By Traci Chapman

State assessments do not give a clear picture of Mustang third-graders’ reading abilities, Mustang school district officials say.

“This is the first year that the modified test was not allowed for special needs students who are on an Individualized Education Plan (IEP),” Superintendent Sean McDaniel said Tuesday. “The scores of students on IEP’s were included with all other scores.

“Additionally, the state department included in its reporting that was released on Friday all of the students who meet one of the good cause exemptions that they have allowed,” he said. “The reporting is inaccurate.”

According to state test results, 67.5 percent of Mustang third-graders taking the test – 516 of 765 students – showed proficiency. One hundred students in Mustang were assessed as unsatisfactory on their test results. State data indicated another 116 Mustang third-graders demonstrated limited knowledge on the reading assessment. McDaniel said results were preliminary, a fact not emphasized by state officials.

For the first time, third-graders with an unsatisfactory reading score on the state test will not be allowed to move forward to fourth grade unless they meet what state officials deemed “good cause” exemptions.

“They must demonstrate the ability to read at a second-grade level or higher or they must have another significant reason for the unsatisfactory test result,” Oklahoma Department of Education spokeswoman Tricia Pemberton said.

Exemptions include students with disabilities assessed under different guidelines, those who demonstrate “an acceptable level of performance” on a different standardized reading test and students who have had less than two years of English and are not yet proficient, state officials said. Teachers can also provide a portfolio of a child’s work to prove that individual can read at the necessary reading level.

“Mustang has already identified more than a dozen students who meet one of the good cause exemptions and we anticipate we will have several more,” McDaniel said. “It will take us a few days to review the data provided by the state department and remove the students from the list who meet one of the exemptions.

“Once an evaluation of the preliminary results is completed, Mustang will have a much lower number of students who may be retained,” the superintendent said. “Even that list will be preliminary as students will still have opportunities to meet exemptions and promote to the fourth grade.“

Mustang’s teachers have been working with struggling students for months, and sometimes over a period of years, McDaniel said.

“Mustang teachers and principals identified third-graders who were at risk of being retained when they entered the third grade and in some cases as far back as kindergarten and have been working with them intensively,” he said. “Each student has a detailed instructional plan in place that we believe will lead to reading and academic proficiency.”

Only two of Canadian County’s six independent school districts could post 80 percent or more of its third-grade students were considered proficient in reading.

Results of the tests were released Friday. In Canadian County, the area’s two smallest independent school districts posted the best results. Calumet had 17 of 20 students test as proficient on the reading exam, while 16 of Union City’s 19 test-takers achieved the same result.

Other county schools tested as follows:

uEl Reno- 56.4 percent proficient, 21.2 percent unsatisfactory;

uPiedmont – 75.9 percent proficient, 9.8 percent unsatisfactory;

uYukon – 75.1 percent proficient, 9.1 percent unsatisfactory;

uBanner – 65.2 percent proficient;

uDarlington – 83.3 percent proficient; and

uMaple – 76.5 percent proficient.

Students testing in the unsatisfactory range for Darlington and Maple were not provided, and no data at all was released for Riverside School, except the fact 18 third-graders took the test there.

Of the 532 school districts across Oklahoma, only 62 of them scored 80 percent proficient or higher and students in only one district – Coleman Public Schools, located in the southern part of the state – received 100 percent proficiency. The district had 10 third-graders take the exam, according to Department of Education records. Oklahoma City Public Schools posted a 44.8 percent proficiency. More than 1,000 of the 3,608 third-graders who took the test there scored in the unsatisfactory range, state officials said.

Several administrators, including McDaniel, were critical of the way the results were released. Both state and district officials said results were given to the media about 60 minutes after districts themselves received them.

“As stressful as the actual testing may have been for our third-graders, their teachers and parents, the idea that this information has been released to parents prior to our district having had the opportunity to evaluate the data and knowing that this data is only preliminary and not an accurate account of our third-grade scores is sickening,” McDaniel said. “The state department has routinely released scores to districts prior to a public release for the purpose of review and accuracy checking.”

McDaniel said the early release was poorly handled not just for the district and its teachers, but also for some parents, who were startled to learn their child would automatically be kept back – which was not the case with many of Mustang’s students, he said.

“It has caused undue and additional stress on children, parents and teachers,” the superintendent said. “Parents received phone calls Friday informing them that their third-graders scored unsatisfactory on the reading test.

“This message was received by many to mean that their child would have to repeat the third grade,” McDaniel said. “What we are finding today is that many of the students meet one or more of the good cause exemptions and will not be retained.”

While some students were already known to have met the threshold to pass through to fourth grade it would take some time to identify others, something the superintendent said he was sure would be the case – and something that would have been made clear before test results were released, had the state department given districts more time to evaluate the scores. Several administrators from districts around the state, including Oklahoma City, Tulsa and others, agreed.

“Additional students will have acceptable portfolios and they will not be retained,” McDaniel said. “Had the state department provided even 24 hours of notice to districts, we could have kept many families and teachers from having to endure the traumatic weekend that they just went through.”

Parents have a state resource to go to with questions. State Department of Education has set up hotlines, manned by OSDE literacy staff and REAC3H coaches. Lines will be open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, through May 23. The number to call is 521-3774.



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