While most students in the Oklahoma City school district spent the first week of spring break relaxing, more than 5,000 attended voluntary classes to prepare for upcoming tests that could determine whether they repeat the third grade or receive a high school diploma.
The additional instruction, which took place over four days, was geared toward young readers, including third-graders struggling to read at grade level. Those students face retention if they don’t pass a state test next month. Invitations also went out to middle school and high school students who need extra help or are about to take end-of-instruction exams that measure proficiency in seven core subjects.
“Some of them, their parents are asking them to come,” said Meg Barnett, who teaches Algebra I at John Marshall High School, 12201 N Portland Ave. “But I made it clear that it was not a mandatory thing. It’s really just for their benefit ... and a lot of them have been coming in and working extremely hard to make sure they’re prepared for that test.”
Some, like senior Jackson Bugg, used the time to make up unexcused absences. Bugg put the time to good use, tutoring other students in Barnett’s class.
“It’s definitely gratifying if they need help,” he said. “It’s easier to relate things to friends.”
Principal Aspasia Carlson tried to motivate nearly 200 John Marshall students by relaxing the dress code, offering gift card drawings and opening the gym for basketball during lunch.
She even bought pizza for students and a skeleton staff on Friday, the last day of intersession.
The incentives helped ease the pain for those who would have rather been elsewhere.
“I’m here so I can have a better understanding and make up attendance,” said freshman Jay Patton, 16. “I know I have another week after this.”
For the first time, third-graders who score unsatisfactory on the reading test will be held back unless they meet certain exemptions or until they can demonstrate the ability to read at a second-grade level or higher. Exemptions contained in the Reading Sufficiency Act include English Language Learners who have less than two years of English and are not proficient.
About 265 students attended a reading academy at Heronville Elementary School, 1240 SW 29, where nearly 70 percent of students speak limited English.
Most of the 75 third-graders invited to attend are not expected to pass next month’s state-mandated test to measure reading proficiency.
“They can read, but they have little or no comprehension,” said Anna Pyron, a Heronville counselor who doubled as a reading teacher for the week. “Pictures they don’t know. Words they don’t know. Vocabulary they don’t know.”
Many students recently moved here from Mexico and don’t speak English at home, Pyron said. Heronville faces an uphill battle when it comes to getting students caught up.
“The understanding has to be there,” Principal Leon Hill said. “We want the kids to say the words that are important ... the words they need to succeed in school.”
Nearly one in four third-graders in the school district are reading below grade level and are in danger of being held back. About 12 percent of third-graders statewide are reading at unsatisfactory levels, but half are expected to qualify for good cause exemptions, state Schools Superintendent Janet Barresi said this week.
Many English language learners who qualify for exemptions will be promoted, even though they do not read at grade level, Barresi said.