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March 5, 2014

Teachers, students brace for read-or-fail

OKLA. CITY — Two years ago, when Oklahoma third-grade students took the state’s annual reading test, nearly 5,500 them, or 11 percent, failed.

Last year, the results were worse, despite a stepped-up focus on reading instruction: 12 percent of third graders scored at the lowest of four levels, unsatisfactory, meaning they were still reading at about a first-grade level.

This year brings a tough consequence: Third graders who score unsatisfactory in reading on the Oklahoma Core Curriculum Test will have to repeat the grade unless they are granted an exemption. The possibility that thousands of children will be held back has teachers and schools across the state going to great lengths to boost the reading skills of struggling students.

Teachers have nearly six weeks left to cut the number of students at risk of failure on the paper-and-pencil exam. Schools are required to administer the reading test any time between April 10 and April 23. Results will be returned to schools by May 9.

This test will mark the first high-stakes assessment in the students’ academic career. The read-or-fail requirement is a provision of Oklahoma’s Reading Sufficiency Act, originally passed in the late 1990s and amended in 2011 to add the retention mandate. The goal of the law was to ensure students move from “learn to read” to “read to learn” by fourth grade, so they can then progress in all subjects. Many educators warn that retention could harm students’ learning and social adjustment.

“They’ve never taken this big of a test,” said Michelle Hightower, a third-grade teacher at Oakridge Elementary School in southeast Oklahoma City. “Some students have told me, ‘I’m very nervous about it.’”

Oklahoma Watch talked with three teachers in Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Ardmore to find out what they’re doing to ensure students are prepared for the test.

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Sam Powers is the new pastor at 1st United Methodist Church, 305 E. Hurd.

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