Last month The Gazette published Between the Lines, an article with reporting on Iowa’s third grade retention law by Andrew Phillips.
One of the hardest things for me to grasp is what exactly defines a proficient third grade reader.
In Iowa, it is a third grader who can meet or exceed the benchmark or cut scores on the universal screening assessment (not the Iowa Assessments or whatever end of year accountability assessment ends up being used). These benchmark or cut scores have been set based on a prediction that a child meeting at least that score will meet a proficiency cut score on a statewide assessment. Presumably these predictions are state specific, but that isn’t entirely clear.
Iowa’s current proficiency cut scores on the Iowa Assessments are equivalent to a 41st percentile rank in the 2000 national sample. So (possibly) an Iowa third grader is a proficient reader, for purposes of the retention law, if the third grader’s performance on the universal screening assessment predicts that the child would score in the 41st percentile or higher on the Iowa Assessments as compared to the 2000 national sample. That would explain the results reported in The Gazette article Almost one in four Iowa third-graders failed new reading tests, data show. [Consider what the retention numbers might look like pegged to proficiency cut scores on the Smarter Balanced assessments. Yikes.]
If that still seems a bit abstract (and perhaps, arbitrary), The Gazette offers a look at the fluency portion of the universal screening assessment in another article, Quiz: Are you smarter than a third grader? Note that the orange, blue, and green lines mark the words a third grader would have to read to or beyond to earn a passing score on the assessment in the fall, winter, and spring assessment periods.
Are you confident that a third grader only reaching the word “blue” should be headed for retention, while a third grader reaching the word “with” shouldn’t be? I’m not.
To be fair, I don’t see any claims to the effect that the cut scores on the universal screening assessments are valid for the purposes of determining retention in third grade. See here, here, and here. And yet, we are poised to use them for retention purposes anyway. Consider what that says about state-level education leadership in Iowa.