Whitehall News

Third-graders' reading-test scores surprise district leaders

Only 20 of 249 students slated to be held back; they'll have one more chance to pass in summer


More than 90 percent of Whitehall City School District third-graders will move on to fourth grade in the fall, according to preliminary data released by the Ohio Department of Education and the district last week.

The news was good for Superintendent Brian Hamler, who said he anticipated a much-higher retention rate. He said the district's targeted, intense intervention in the past year made a significant difference in the spring outcomes.

Numbers released by ODE in the fall indicated 38 percent of Whitehall students who took Ohio's reading assessment in October did not meet the required score. With the state's new Third-Grade Reading Guarantee in place, that meant dozens of students would be held back if they did not improve their scores.

"The numbers are much lower than we anticipated," said Hamler last week. "Originally, we thought we would be looking at 90 students (held back) based on past history."

Now, only 20 students are in line to be held back -- although they have one more chance over the summer to make the cut.

Hamler said the district tested 249 third-graders, with 169 scoring proficient (400 points or higher) on the reading portion of the spring tests. That equates to a 68 percent passage rate.

"Students only need to score a 392 to be promoted to the fourth grade, and we had 185 students meet this threshold," Hamler said. "After you take out the kids who have an (Individualized Education Program) exemption or have been retained before, we only have 20 students who are still at risk of being retained due to the Third-Grade Reading Guarantee.

"So that means that at this point, 92 percent of our third-grade students are on track and ready to be promoted."

ODE's preliminary data indicates 247 students were tested in Whitehall, a slight variation from the district's numbers. The department has stressed that its numbers are preliminary and subject to adjustment by school districts.

In order to best accommodate students who didn't pass, Hamler said the district will place them in a split third- and fourth-grade reading classroom so they will remain with some of their peers, rather than be held back entirely. Third-grade students in the split classrooms will be introduced to fourth-grade math but will receive intense intervention in third-grade reading, having multiple opportunities throughout the year to pass an alternate test in order to be promoted to fourth-grade reading, Hamler said.

"We will still use those same interventions next year," he said. "The things we used were pretty successful last year."

As it stands now, there is no need for a split classroom at Beechwood Elementary School, as all third-graders there are slated to be promoted. Etna Road and Kae Avenue elementary schools each will house one split classroom to accommodate the 20 anticipated retentions.

Hamler said most of those who face retention are enrolled in summer school and have a good chance of passing the test before the first bell of the 2014-15 school year.

To be eligible for promotion to the fourth grade, students must earn the 392 promotion score on the reading OAA or pass an alternate test. Those who qualify for exemptions include limited English-proficient students who have been enrolled in U.S. schools for fewer than three full school years and have had fewer than three years of instruction in an English as a Second Language program; special-education students whose Individualized Education Programs specifically exempt them from retention; and any student who has received intensive remediation for two years and was previously retained.

The 50-question OAA reading test is a mix of multiple choice, short-answer and extended-answer questions.