CEDAR RAPIDS — Between 20 and 25 percent of Iowa third-graders last school year failed reading tests required under the state’s reading and retention law, according to data released this week by the State Department of Education.
The results come from the first school year in which schools were required to give new reading tests to students in kindergarten through third grade.
Starting in spring 2017, any student deemed “substantially deficient” in reading at the end of third grade, based on those tests, will be required to attend a summer reading program or repeat third grade. That requirement has raised concerns among teachers, parents and education officials.
Students who failed the test in third grade last school year won’t be affected by that part of the law. But the test scores provide a glimpse into how many students might be affected at the end of next school year, as well as how the law has been implemented thus far.
The Department of Education released the test results in two data sets — one including all third grade students, and another including only those who had test scores entered into the state’s data system.
Some students might not have had scores in the system because schools were unable to upload their test score data, said Janell Brandhorst, a Department of Education administrative consultant.
In the data with all students, 22 percent statewide were substantially deficient. An additional 8 percent were considered “at risk,” and 68 percent were “adequately progressing.” Designations for 2 percent of the students could not be determined.
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In the data including only students with entered test scores, 24 percent statewide were substantially deficient, while 9 percent were at risk, 66 percent were adequately progressing and 1 percent could not be determined.
The data — released after a Gazette open records request — aren’t perfect, Department of Education officials said.
For example, the state’s data system marked all students as adequately progressing by default, Brandhorst said — meaning it could overrepresent the number of students who passed the test if schools didn’t correctly update all students’ designations.
“There’s reasons that both (data sets) are accurate and both are a little fuzzy,” said Connor Hood, another Department of Education consultant.
The data also are somewhat dependent on solid understandings of the law among teachers and school officials, some of whom have been unclear about its details.
State officials said they anticipate the system will become more accurate with each round of testing.
“We expected this to be a learning year for the entire education system,” said Staci Hupp, a Department of Education spokeswoman. “This is an imprecise system that we’re still building, and with each round of assessment and reporting, we really expect to see improvements.”