State releases IREAD-3 results

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett took a glass-is-84-percent-full approach when he released IREAD-3 test results today. And, yes, it’s a credit to Indiana teachers and students that 84 percent of the state’s third-graders passed the test.

But the fact remains that 12,000 children didn’t pass. And many of them will be retained in third grade, whether their parents and teachers think it’s the right thing to do or not.

Students who didn’t pass will get one more chance. Also, we don’t know how many will qualify for good-cause exemptions from being retained, because they are in special education, are English language learners, or have already been held back twice.

Bennett highlighted one charter school and three traditional public schools where 90 percent or more of third-graders passed IREAD-3 even though the schools have high percentages of poor or ELL students. That’s impressive.

But the fact remains that there’s a strong correlation between poverty and high rates of failure on standardized tests, including IREAD-3. Most of the school districts where more than 25 percent of students didn’t pass the test are those with high percentages of poor and minority students – including East Chicago, Indianapolis, Gary, Elkhart, Michigan City, South Bend and Marion.

National Public Radio’s StateImpact Indiana posted IREAD-3 results in a searchable database, along with a good quick report on the highlights. But one has to question the insistence by state officials that the good-cause exemptions are “broad enough that districts can determine which students truly need retention.” The exemptions are very specific and narrowly tailored – more so than those in Florida, which was Indiana’s model for the third-grade retention rule.

It’s also clear that test-based retention of third-graders isn’t what the Indiana General Assembly wanted when it passed legislation in 2010 calling for a plan to improve reading achievement. Yes, we should celebrate students who did well on IREAD-3 – and schools that pulled out the stops to help their students pass. But legislators, parents and educators should continue to question this policy.