ISTEP-Plus testing begins next week for students in grades three through eight across Indiana. This is the first year third-graders will take a new reading test that will determine whether they move on to fourth grade.
Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress-Plus measures students' mastery of basic language and science skills, particularly reading, writing and mathematics. Students in grades four and six also take a science test; students in grades five and seven take a social studies test.
New this year is the IREAD-3 exam. The Indiana Reading Evaluation And Determination assessment is to measure foundational reading standards through grade three.
Based on the Indiana Academic Standards, IREAD-3 was developed in accordance with Public Law 109, which "requires the evaluation of reading skills for third-graders to ensure that all students can read proficiently before moving on to grade four." A student will have a second opportunity to take the test in the summer; if a student doesn't pass the test in the summer, he or she will be retained.
Schools across Indiana piloted the IREAD-3 test last year.
Eads Elementary School Principal Linda Bevil was among hundreds of elementary school principals across the state who participated Wednesday in a webinar with the Indiana Department of Education about the IREAD-3 test.
"We've been working hard to prepare our students," she said. "We have 90-minute reading blocks, five days per week. We work on skills throughout the year to make sure our students are prepared."
In addition, gym teacher John Stamper dressed up as Prof. D. Tails and visited all the classrooms to talk to students about the importance of having breakfast and getting a good night's rest.
While the School Town of Munster has not outlined its retention plan for third-graders who don't pass the test, Bevil said it will be a local decision. "There will be a lot of factors" to consider, she said.
Indiana Department of Education spokeswoman Stephanie Sample said if a student can't pass the test a second time, the student could fail third grade.
"We understand that our local school teachers and administrators are closer to students," she said. "There could be a situation where the student misses the cutoff point by one or two points. After discussion, if they feel the student actually does have the necessary reading skills and feel comfortable moving them on, they can do that. In most cases, we are expecting it to be a retention issue."
Significant research shows that if students can't read by third grade, they don't have the skills to "read to learn," Sample said.
The law requiring the third-grade test includes three exemptions for students who don't pass the test: students who have been retained twice; students with disabilities whose case conference committee has determined they should move on; and English language-learner students whose individual learning plan committee has determined they should move on.
Phyllis Allison, principal of John Simatovich Elementary School in the Union Township School Corp. in Valparaiso, said they've been busy targeting students who are "on the bubble" who need extra help.
"We will consider anyone who doesn't pass on an individual basis," Allison said. "The state has allowed us some grace in this, so that we can make the decision locally."