State Department of Education figures released Friday show that more than 470 students in Western Stark County schools are lagging behind in reading skills and are at risk of being held back.
These students failed to earn proficient scores on the October Ohio reading assessment.
All of the county's 17 public school districts saw the percentage of students who were advanced or proficient in reading drop from the last time the test was taken in May. Only five county districts — Fairless Northwest, Louisville, Osnaburg and Sandy Valley — improved their scores from the October 2012 test.
Across the state, roughly a third of third-graders scored below proficient levels on the new, tougher reading test.
Canton City was the worst performing school district in Stark County with 64 percent of its third-graders failing the test. Jackson Local Schools was the highest performing district with 80.5 percent of students passing.
Under the state's new Third Grade Reading Guarantee, students can be held back if they don't meet the new reading targets. Students will take the test again in the spring.
State results show 32,905 students statewide, or 26.2 percent of those who took the fall reading test, fell below the basic literacy level.
Half of Massillon City Schools' third-graders did not meet the state's new reading standard. Of the 273 students who took the October test, 136 failed.
Students must read at grade level by the end of their third-grade year to be promoted to fourth grade. The state reading test scores give schools an indication of which students may be at risk for failure. There are some exemptions for students who are not English speaking and those with certain learning disabilities or who may have been retained before.'BIG TRANSITION'
Massillon Curriculum Director Angela Chapman said scores were "pretty typical" since the test administered in October measured what students should know by the end of a school year — meaning there's time to improve.
"They only had a few months of instruction," she said. "They haven't had all of the top quality instruction needed (for the end of the year test)."
The test, Chapman said, was harder than previous years because it was aligned with the new state standards, which are designed to be more relevant to the real world and provide students with skills they will need to succeeded in college and a career.
"Statewide, we were expecting a lower percentage of students to be proficient in the fall," she said. "It's a newer set of standards and a new way of thinking and learning. Students are not as familiar with it. It is a big transition period for all of us."
While a 50-percent potential failure rate is worrisome, Chapman believes Massillon has the right tools in place to help those at-risk students for the spring reading test.
Page 2 of 3 - "I see it as the glass is half-full," she said. "We are halfway there to meeting the benchmark. We are maintaining a positive outlook."
The early testing, Chapman said, gives the district an excellent tool to identify those students who may need additional help.
"It is like having a laser-like focus on instruction and students' needs," she said.
Northwest Local Schools has about 39 of its 148 students who are in danger of failing third grade.
Superintendent Mike Shreffler was pleased with the results.
"Of course, teachers want each kid to pass the first time but I have to keep reminding them this is an end-of-the-year test," he said.
He said the vast majority of students are where they need to be, but Northwest is prepared to get those identified as "at risk" prepared for the testing in the spring.
The district has reading improvement plans in place to ensure students succeed including offering after-school help.
"We are confident we can make these students succeed," he said. "We are going to take care of them helping them to meet our reading standards and the state standards."
Before the testing, Chapman said Massillon had identified students from kindergarten through third grade who may not be on track to meet reading standards.
Identified students have a reading improvement and monitoring plan — RIMP — she said.
The RIMP spells out for the student, the teacher and the parents what the school is going to do for that child to make the necessary gains in reading, Chapman said.
Each plan is individualized for the student and can include tutoring during and after school, an after-school intervention program, classroom intervention and computer-assisted programs, such as Reading Plus, that assess students and provide skills or activities to target weaknesses.
Chapman said the district thinks of the Third Grade Reading Guarantee as the K-3 Reading Guarantee.
"We don't wait for third grade to give students assistance," she said. "We get the parents involved and we monitor the progress throughout the course of the year. We want to catch them before they fall and not have to work twice as hard after they fall to get them caught up."
Perry Local Superintendent Marty Bowe said his district is seeing a slightly higher number of students lagging behind in reading skills with roughly 122 students at risk of failing, according to October test results.
He said the rising number is a direct result of the increasing number of students who are receiving free and reduced lunches.
"The poverty level in Stark County is climbing and the home life for some of these kids is not good," he said. "That is directly correlated to when we get them (at school). We have a lot of remediation."
Page 3 of 3 - Bowe said when a student starts out behind in kindergarten, the district has a short period of time to catch them up.
"Our education is continuing to get better and better every year," he said. "When you have a child who is coming into kindergarten and they are on an age 3 academic level, I have about two and half years to get the child caught up — we may or may not get them caught up — but if they are moving (in the right direction) maybe the right thing is to keep them moving not hold them back.
"Their (state) intentions are good," Bowe said, "but they are just shooting us in the foot."
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