Third grade reading scores drop in Mahoning Valley

By Denise Dick

Preliminary test scores show that most Mahoning Valley third-graders are struggling more with reading this year.

Most Mahoning Valley school districts saw a drop in the number of third-graders who scored proficient or above on the Ohio Achievement Assessment reading test this year, compared with the fall 2012 test.

Students took the tests in October.

In Mahoning County, all of the districts except Jackson-Milton, Western Reserve and Sebring saw a drop in the percentage of third-graders scoring at proficient or above, compared with October 2012. Sebring’s percentage stayed the same while Jackson-Milton and Western Reserve saw an increase.

In Trumbull County, Bristol, Brookfield, Joseph Badger, Liberty and Mathews saw increases while all of the other districts saw their numbers dip.

In Columbiana County, Columbiana, Crestview, Lisbon and Wellsville saw increases. Southern Local stayed the same, and the rest of the districts’ percentages slipped.

Linda Ross, director of instruction at Boardman schools, said that because the test is administered early in the school year, the scores may show that students have difficulty making connections to what they’ve learned in the past.

Some students make those connections more naturally. “Some students may need help to make those connections,” Ross said.

Seventy-two percent of Boardman’s third-graders scored at proficient or above on this year’s reading test compared with 79 percent in fall 2012.

Ross said Boardman schools have programs in place to identify students who need help and tailor instruction accordingly.

“It’s no longer one-size-fits-all,” Ross said.

She likened it to a person buying clothes off the rack or having them altered to fit.

“If you make alterations, it’s going to fit you better,” Ross said. “Tailored instruction is the type of instruction that’s going to last a long time.”

Gov. John Kasich signed legislation last year allowing third-graders to be held back if they are not able to read at an appropriate level. The new law also calls for reading assessments of students starting in kindergarten, with increased identification and parental notification of deficiencies and targeted teaching intervention for struggling students.

Statewide, 56 percent of third-graders were proficient or higher on the preliminary tests.

Youngstown fell from 27 percent proficient or above last year to 21 percent this year.

Doug Hiscox, deputy superintendent of academic affairs, said the low percentage is cause for concern. But he believes the district has the right programs in place to address the problem.

This marks the first full year for the city schools’ literacy collaborative, a reading program for all students, as well as the leveled literacy intervention model — an intervention program that provides 90 minutes of daily reading instruction as well as 30 minutes of reading intervention for students who need it.

Those programs were in the district for only part of last year.

Poland’s percentage fell from 83 percent at proficient or above last fall to 64 percent this year.

“I’m absolutely concerned seeing this kind of drop at that rate is unacceptable,” said Superintendent David Janofa.

State officials told the district to expect a drop, but he wasn’t expecting such a dramatic slip.

“We’re concerned, we’re worried, and we’re looking what we need to do to address it,” Janofa said.

Austintown fell from 71 percent last year to 54 percent this year.

Superintendent Vince Colaluca said 50 percent to 55 percent is normal for the district, and last year’s results were exceptionally high. The district uses not only the preliminary tests, but teacher input and other sources to determine when students need more help and the best ways to provide it in reading and other core subject areas.

The test results released Friday were for a beginning-of-the-year test, he said.

In Trumbull, Liberty’s scores jumped from 48 percent scoring at proficient or above last year to 62 percent this year. Superintendent Stan Watson said the district has a number of programs in place to address reading in the elementary grades, and Pam McCurdy, curriculum director, is the architect of that.

McCurdy said the district works to identify students at the beginning of the school year through diagnostic assessments.

“We have intervention in place for those kids,” she said.

Besides help from classroom teachers, the district also provides more intensive intervention for those students who need it.

“It’s very specific help for at-risk kids to close that gap,” McCurdy said. “Mentors have come in to focus skills where students might be lacking.”

Intervention can range from in-class to small group to one-on-one, depending on students’ needs.

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