Sunday Special Lead Article
Too many Kentucky schools may be expending little, if any, effort to teach children with learning disabilities to read. At the same time, highly questionable testing practices provide an inflated picture of the true reading performance of students across the commonwealth. And, many Kentucky teachers are expending a tremendous amount of effort to keep this situation exactly like it is today.
The problem stems from very unfortunate rules for testing reading in the commonwealth. Believe it or not, these rules actually allow educators to read the state’s so-called reading assessments to many students identified as having learning disabilities. These rules create inappropriate inducements for educators to identify more students as learning disabled so they can read all of the state tests to these special students. That includes the state’s reading tests.
Is there really an excess of use of the reading accommodation in Kentucky?
One very strong clue is that in 2011 Kentucky led the nation for exclusion of students with learning disabilities on both fourth and eighth grade National Assessment of Educational Progress reading tests. The prime reason is that students who were getting the Kentucky state reading tests read to them were pretty much automatically excluded from the NAEP. This NAEP issue has led to tremendous controversy over Kentucky’s real reading performance. We have extensively discussed this before in articles such as “Doubts widen about Kentucky’s NAEP reading scores.”
But, at the risk of sounding like a TV ad, there is more.
The Kentucky Board of Education was told in December 2011 exactly how much use of the reading accommodation went on during the 2011 Kentucky Core Content Test (KCCT). As the graph below shows, the state’s KCCT reading tests were read to large proportions of the students with learning disabilities in each grade where reading is assessed.
In most of these grades, nearly half of all the students identified as learning disabled had a reader for their reading assessment.
Incredibly, the proportion of students getting a reader GROWS as you move up from the third to the fifth grade. For example, slightly more than one in three learning disabled third grade students got a test reader (35.42% of them). However, nearly half of the fifth graders (45.85%) got a reader.
Why does it take so long for our educators to figure out these kids have reading problems? Shouldn’t they know this by the end of the third grade? Why does the situation get worse, not better, as the students get older?
Also, notice that the percentage of learning disabled students who get a reader stays remarkably constant from the fifth to the eighth grade. Once kids get tagged as weak readers, that label sticks for most of the rest of their school career.
In fact, while I don’t have the data to show this, the label actually may stick for all of the students’ school days. You see, while the reading percentage drops in high school, that may not really signal an improvement. By the time students enter the 10th grade, they are old enough to drop out. Many non-reading learning disabled students may leave school by the time the KCCT reading assessment is administered at the end of the 10th grade.
Thus, while our prison systems burgeon with enormous numbers of inmates who cannot read, our state’s leaders and the public in general have absolutely no way of knowing if many of Kentucky’s learning disabled students can read at all.
Even worse, there is no way to know if our schools are making any real efforts to teach these kids to read.
The next question is: Does this testing policy really inflate scores? Tune in for Part 2 tomorrow to find out.