State board reviews early reading deficiency tests; seeks feedback

Suzie Glassman

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Left to right: Rebecca McClellan, Lisa Escárcega, Steve Durham, Joyce Rankin Bottom row: Angelika Schroeder, Karla Esser, CommissionColorado Department of Education

By: Suzie Glassman/NewsBreak Denver

(Castle Rock, CO) The Colorado state board of education is reviewing 23 early reading assessments from 19 vendors to determine which tests will make its approved list of interim assessments given to students in Kindergarten through third grade.

These tests determine which students have or are at risk for a significant reading deficiency (SRD) and qualify for additional literacy intervention. The earlier assessments identify struggling readers, the easier and less costly it is to provide the support that will help them meet grade-level expectations.

According to the Colorado department of education, “Those students identified as having a “significant reading deficiency” must then have diagnostic assessments administered to pinpoint those students’ specific area(s) of weakness and provide in-depth information about students’ skills and instructional needs. Students identified with a significant reading deficiency are required to have an intervention plan called READ Plan.”

A long-term study by the Annie E. Case Foundation found that students who are not proficient readers by the end of third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school than proficient readers. The report states that 88% of students who failed to earn a high school diploma were struggling readers in third grade.

Approximately 23% of Colorado’s students have a significant reading deficiency, more than one in five.

Identifying struggling readers

It’s up to the state-approved assessments to identify at-risk students, and not all assessments are created equal. To make the list, they must screen in these component areas: phonological awareness, phonics, vocabulary, comprehension, and fluency.

Members of the dyslexia advocacy group COKID recently called for the board to only approve READ-Act assessments that not only screen in those five areas but also use a skills-based approach vs. a standards-based one. For example, instead of assessing Phonics, they argue a better list of skills to assess would be: Alphabet Knowledge, Sound-Symbol Recognition, Oral Vocabulary, Decoding, Word Reading, and Encoding.

They also ask that these tests not base their findings on a composite score but flag students who fall below cut-off scores in any area.

Public commenters at the August state board of education meeting highlighted how tests like i-Ready, by Curriculum and Associates, that use a scaled or composite score, often miss students who do well in an area like comprehension but poorly in one like phonics.

Two high-school students spoke about how their inability to read went unidentified until late elementary or middle school and how severely their reading struggles impacted their social and emotional health. They believe a more specific assessment would have caught their learning disorders earlier and prevented much of their suffering.

Commenters also told the board that i-Ready doesn’t measure oral reading fluency, a weakness associated with dyslexia. I-Ready is the primary assessment tool used by two of the state’s largest districts, Cherry Creek and Douglas County.

The current list of state-approved assessments was last updated in 2013.

Sending feedback

COKID says stories of students who went under the radar due to faulty assessments are common in every district.

To share your story or provide feedback to the state board, you can email state.board@state.co.us. Or you can give public comment in person on September Sept. 14 at the next board meeting in Colorado Springs. Click here for guidelines on public comments at state board meetings.

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