The third-graders in Ashley Schlusler’s classroom at Willow Brook Elementary School are pretty good readers.
It’s understanding what they read that’s causing problems and elevating anxiety as another high-stakes test draws near.
“These kids, even though they can read the words, they don’t have the background knowledge and the vocabulary to understand what they read all the time,” Schlusler said.
Hundreds of students participating in a summer reading academy sponsored by Oklahoma City Public Schools are running out of time to improve their skills and could be held back when school starts Aug. 4.
The district has identified 636 third-graders who scored unsatisfactory on a state reading test in April and have yet to qualify for one of seven good-cause exemptions. All will be retained unless they pass an alternative assessment on Friday, the last day of the 10-day academy.
“The goal is to try to get them exposed to as much as we possibly can in these two weeks, so that when they take their test next week they have a better chance of passing it,” said Schlusler, 25, a first-grade teacher at Wheeler Elementary.
Third-graders who fail the assessment can retest on Aug. 8, Sept. 12 and Oct. 14, and will be promoted immediately to the fourth grade if they pass, officials said.
About 1,200 third-graders — including 514 students who failed the state test but qualified for exemptions — were invited to attend the academy at 10 school sites, including Willow Brook in northeast Oklahoma City.
Wilbur House, the district’s executive director of elementary curriculum, said third-graders who are having difficulty with reading have not received a foundation of phonemic awareness and phonics instruction.
Phonemic awareness is the ability to notice, think about and work with sounds in spoken words. Phonics teaches children the relationships between letters of written language and the individual sounds of spoken language.
“If they read OK, they’re probably having problems with processing and comprehension and understanding and analyzing the meaning of what they have read,” House said. “What we’re trying to do is help them gain confidence in being able to express what they have read and write what they have read.”
Only 450 students attended the first week of the academy, which featured small group settings and individualized instruction.
On Friday, Schlusler peppered six children with a variety of activities aimed at improving retention. For example, the teacher had them read three different versions of the story Cinderella and then list the similarities and differences.
“All of these kids are really good readers,” she said. “But what we found was that when they’re reading, they’re not paying attention to those details, so that when they have questions they have to answer they were not able to do so.”
Cody, 9, made quick work of a short story about George Washington Carver, an American scientist and educator.
“I am smart,” he beamed.
However, the boy grew anxious when asked about the upcoming test.
“It makes me nervous,” he said.
Across the room, Sergio, 9, thumbed through a book about horned lizards while writing down facts.
“They squirt blood out of their eyes,” he said.
Sergio, too, is apprehensive about retesting.
“I might not pass,” he said.
If they read OK, they’re probably having problems with processing and comprehension and under
standing and analyzing the meaning of what they have read.”
Executive director, Curriculum development for Oklahoma City Public Schools