About the same number of Westerville City Schools' third-grade students failed the state's reading assessment this fall as last fall, despite a bump in the passing grade required by the state.
In all, 256 students did not score the required 392 points for passage on the fall Ohio Achievement Assessment for third-grade reading. That compares with 248 third-graders who did not score the required 390 points last fall.
The number represents about 24 percent of the district's third-graders, said Westerville Elementary Academic Affairs Executive Director David Baker, and that number does not count out special-needs students or English language learners who are exempted from testing requirements.
While it sounds alarming that a quarter of Westerville third-graders failed to meet state reading requirements, Baker said, the assessments measure students to end-of-the-year standards.
"We have to keep in mind that (the) fall OAA is an end-of-year assessment, so we're in the fall taking an assessment of what students should learn by the end of the year," Baker said. "That's why we have almost a fourth of our students that are not reaching that benchmark."
Nonetheless, the district is working hard to provide additional intervention to those students this year.
Under the state's Third-Grade Reading Guarantee, students who do not meet the 392 mark on spring assessments will be required to be retained in third grade rather than being promoted to fourth.
For the last school year, students who didn't meet the 390 mark in the spring were required to be considered for retention but could be allowed to progress.
In Westerville, at the end of the 2013 school year, 49 students had to be considered for retention, but only five students did not progress to fourth grade, and other factors were at play in making that decision, Baker said.
To ensure that all students meet the state requirements at the end of this year, the district has beefed up its intervention efforts.
Over the summer, the Westerville Board of Education approved 10.5 additional full-time reading intervention specialists.
Previously, the district had focused its intervention specialists in the first and second grades, with schools deploying them in third grade when resources allowed. The additional staff will allow for more intervention at the third-grade level, Baker said.
"We added those teachers to make sure that all of our third-graders who needed access to those teachers had access," he said.
There also is a team of state-sponsored volunteers at work in classrooms, and after the winter break, the district will start its winter reading intervention program, for which substitute teachers will be brought in to work one-on-one with students in need of the additional attention.
A new after-school program, funded by a grant received by the district last year, also will commence after winter break for first- and second-graders who are at risk for falling behind in reading.
"I feel very good about the work that our teachers are doing, I feel good about the interventions we've put in place," Baker said. "I feel like the district has put in place every opportunity to make sure the students have success."
Baker said the district is determined to not retain any students due to the Third-Grade Reading Guarantee.
"Any time you have to have a conversation about retaining a kid, those aren't the kind of conversations you want to have," Baker said. "I'm quite hopeful we're going to see really, really good success this spring."
The district also may receive some help from the state toward its goal of not retaining any students. The state has told districts it is working on an alternative assessment for students who fare poorly on the traditional assessment.
Most importantly, Baker said, teachers and intervention specialists are working hard to create plans to help each individual child succeed, rather than relying on a group approach.
"I've been in the buildings and I've been with the teachers and kiddos and seen them working really hard," Baker said.
"Plans are in place for each individual child. We're not looking at that 256 and figuring out what to do for that group."