All Scottsdale 3rd-graders pass under new reading law

June 16, 2014

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The state’s new high-stakes reading initiative played out like a thriller novel in the Scottsdale Unified School District, with the results unknown until the last day of school.

On May 22, Scottsdale officials found out that no third-graders in the district would be held back under the state’s new Move On When Reading law.

The Cave Creek and Fountain Hills unified school districts also had no students who will be prevented from moving to fourth grade due to a lack of reading proficiency.

Move on When Reading, a law signed by Gov. Jan Brewer in 2010, requires third-graders who score “falls far below” on the reading portion of the 2014 Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards test to be held back until they can read at a third-grade level. Students’ AIMS scores fall into four categories: falls far below, approaches, meets and exceeds proficiency in the subject matter.

The Legislature allocated $40 million for remedial reading programs for kindergartners through third-graders, or about $130 for every K-3 student, starting with the 2012-13 school year.

The Scottsdale district used the $900,000 it received to hire more teachers.

During the school year, Scottsdale gave three of its own reading benchmark tests to its 1,600 third-graders — in November, February and May, according to Dave McNeil, executive director of elementary schools and assessments for the district.

Scottsdale gets the results of its own reading tests the next day, as opposed to the AIMS test, which is administered in April but not scored and released until the summer. This year, the state Department of Education agreed to release the third-graders’ reading results earlier.

After Scottsdale’s first reading test in November, the families of students who did poorly were told that under the new law, their students were at risk of not being promoted to fourth grade. Those students received extra help during the year.

In mid-May, the district gave its final reading test of the year, and 26 third-graders across the district failed, McNeil said.

However, the Move on When Reading law exempts students who are in special education and those in English language learning programs. So, of the 26 who failed, 16 were not eligible to be held back for those reasons.

That left 10 students at risk of not being promoted to fourth grade. McNeil said he consulted with the principals, and they suggested giving the 10 students one more test, but on paper instead of on the computer.

“I thought that was a great idea because then we can make it about the content and not the tool,” he said.

Those 10 third-graders were tested on May 20, two days before the last day of school. On May 21, the results came in: One student failed the district’s reading test.

The next day, May 22, Scottsdale’s last day of the year, schools across the state received their AIMS scores for third-graders.

The student who failed the district’s reading test had scored “approaches” on the AIMS, not “falls far below.” So, the child would not be held back.

Under the law, students who score “falls far below” on AIMS can be promoted to fourth grade if they show reading proficiency in the district’s own test, and that’s what happened in Scottsdale.

AIMS results are not allowed to be released until later this summer, so McNeil could not say how many Scottsdale third-graders scored “falls far below” in reading proficiency in AIMS. But all of those who failed the AIMS in April passed the May district reading test.

The law requires schools to offer summer school for students at risk of being held back, and, anticipating several students would require that, Scottsdale had scheduled classes at Navajo Elementary School with three teachers.

“We planned for 50 students, we trained the teachers, picked the curriculum and had it ready to go,” he said. “We had funds set aside and worked with transportation and nutritional services.”

But it won’t be needed.

McNeil said that although no students will be required to take summer school, those who scored below proficiency were encouraged to attend and several will.