Thursday, December 11, 2003

Early test scores please educators

Many 3rd-, 4th-graders doing well

By Jennifer Mrozowski, The Cincinnati Enquirer
and the Associated Press

COLUMBUS - More than half of third-graders and nearly half of fourth-graders in Ohio public schools have passed state reading tests covering material they're expected to know by year's end, according to the Ohio Department of Education.

State education officials are encouraged by the passing rates on the tests taken in October because teachers have half the school year left to prepare children who didn't pass.

The next time students can take the test is March.

Of 131,701 third-graders who took a new achievement test in October, 53.7 percent scored "proficient" or above on the test.

"We are pleased because more than half the students who took the test are proficient five months early," said J.C. Benton, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education.

Of 134,041 fourth-grade students participating in the October reading test, 49.3 percent scored "proficient" or above.

Benton said students are expected to be proficient by the end of the school year, which gives them two more opportunities to pass the test - in March and July.

"The test is designed to be an indicator to teachers of students that need additional help," Benton said.

That's how local school officials are looking at the results.

In Cincinnati Public Schools, 26 percent of students scored "proficient" or above in October on the fourth-grade test. That's about 5 percentage points higher than during last year's October test, said Terry Joyner, the district's chief academic officer.

The district this month began offering after-school tutoring to about 2,000 of the district's lowest-performing students. And teachers will continue to use new districtwide student assessments, created this year, to determine the skills each student lacks.

Charter schools in Hamilton County struggled more in the first testing period.

Fifteen percent of fourth-grade students at Phoenix Community Learning Center, a charter school in Bond Hill, passed the reading test in October.

"We're going to do what we did last year," said superintendent Glenda Brown. "We have a plan and we know it works."

Last October, the school had about 10 to 15 percent passing the fourth-grade test, she said, but that jumped to more than 60 percent by spring.

The school plans to offer after-school proficiency classes on Tuesdays and Wednesdays until 6:30 p.m. and Saturday school from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

In Norwood City Schools, 40 percent of students scored "proficient" or higher on the fourth-grade test, and 47 percent scored proficient or above on the third-grade test.

Each of Norwood's elementary schools will submit a plan by the end of this month on how to address each school's needs. They should implement the plans in January, said Kristina Chesson, Norwood Schools' director of curriculum.

The district also will offer after-school programming from January to March in each of the schools.

The proficiency test results also outlined a gap between achievement of white and minority students.

The report shows that Asian students had the highest passing rate, 70 percent, followed by white students (60 percent) and Hispanics (34.8 percent). Blacks scored lowest, with 27.8 percent passing.

Among fourth-graders, 63.6 percent of Asian students passed the test, compared with 55.7 percent of white students and 30.5 percent of Hispanic students. Only 24.2 percent of black students, or fewer than one in four, passed the test.

Bill aims at test dates

Ohio's students would take proficiency tests in May instead of March under a bill approved by the House on Wednesday.

The change by Rep. Bill Hartnett, a Mansfield Democrat, had passed the House Education Committee by one vote Tuesday. Hartnett said it will give students the benefit of nearly a full year of instruction before they're tested.

The Department of Education opposes the change because students who need extra help will be identified later, and it would cost about $14 million more to grade the tests in half the time it takes now.

The change is part of a much larger bill, aimed at improving public instruction, adopting many changes recommended by Gov. Bob Taft's Commission on Teaching Success.

Committee members also inserted a heavily debated provision that gives Ohio's colleges and universities more influence on a committee developing statewide standards for teachers and administrators.

House and Senate versions must still be reconciled.


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