Nearly 700 third-graders in the Oklahoma City school district who failed a state reading test have yet to qualify for “good-cause” exemptions and could be held back in the coming year, school leaders announced Thursday.
As many as 259 other students who scored unsatisfactory meet the initial criteria for an exemption and likely will be promoted if the exemption is approved by each student’s teacher and principal, and by interim Superintendent Dave Lopez, district officials said.
That leaves 697 third-graders in danger of being held back in the coming school year unless they meet the exemptions or demonstrate the ability to read at a second-grade level or higher.
“It is not a lost cause,” said Wilbur House, the district’s director of curriculum development. “With rigorous reading activities and strong instruction in phonics and comprehension we know our students can be strong readers.”
To help ensure promotion, the district is offering added reading and language instruction over the summer to assist students who must pass alternative exams or complete portfolios of their work.
About 956 out of 3,445 district third-graders failed the Oklahoma Core Curriculum Test. Of the 259 students identified by the district as likely qualifying for exemptions, 76 are English-Language learners who have had less than two years of English and are not proficient; 61 have demonstrated an acceptable level of performance on an alternative assessment; 115 have disabilities and have been retained once; and seven have been retained twice, school officials said.
The number of exemptions is expected to rise in the coming weeks because students can retest twice before the end of the summer and complete teacher-developed portfolios that show they can read on grade level.
“We are still evaluating the individual test data; that information will be used to help us identify areas of improvement,” House said.
In between alternative assessments approved by the state, struggling students will get several classroom opportunities to improve their reading skills.
In addition to a five-week summer school program for 2,000 students that focuses on core academic subjects, the district is offering a two-week reading academy for 1,200 third-graders who will receive intensive instruction.
The district also will partner with Payne Education Center in a pilot program that will provide 16 additional reading coaches and summer training opportunities for teachers at 11 elementary schools. A four-week academy at FD Moon Academy offered by the district and the Oklahoma After-School Network will provide about 200 students with reading and math skills reinforcement.
In August, the district plans to increase staffing to better serve students with limited English skills.
“Our immediate focus is on doing all we can to assist students to be strong readers now and prepare them for reading in the future,” Lopez said. “We can’t rest until we do all we can so that a student’s difficulty in reading today does not determine that child’s destiny.”
Of the 3,445 district third-graders who completed the reading test, 63 percent scored advanced (18 students), proficient (1,547) or limited knowledge (630) in reading, and 27 percent scored unsatisfactory (956).
The latest district figures differ from those released Friday by the state Education Department, which showed Oklahoma City Public Schools with 28.9 percent of 3,608 students scoring unsatisfactory.
The state numbers included the district’s charter schools, district spokeswoman Tierney Tinnin said.