IREAD-3 is a forty-question test that will determine whether public school students in Indiana may advance to fourth grade. It channels education dollars toward redundant assessment, not instruction, and favors retention over remediation; it is therefore a misuse of public funds.
No major decision about a child's future should be made on the basis of a single test score. Retaining students has been shown to increase the risk that they drop out of school and to have a null or negative effect on their academic achievement in the long run.
Like other high-stakes standardized tests, IREAD-3 will disproportionately punish low-income children and families. Indiana students' reading skills are already assessed continually by their teachers as well as through ISTEP+ and NWEA or Acuity. Money allocated for this test directly reduces funds available for remediation. Our tax dollars should go to local schools for literacy programs and teachers rather than to assessment overhead and testing companies.
Retention increases the risk that a student will drop out, and the vast majority of studies show that it has a null or negative effect on academic achievement (1). Boys are particularly vulnerable to its effects (2). In addition, standardized tests disproportionately punish low-income and minority children and families (3). Florida's third-grade retention policy has impacted black and Hispanic children at much higher levels than white children despite their lower numbers in the school population (4).
Standardized test results are too inaccurate for promotion or retention decisions. The IREAD-3 plan absurdly assumes that 72 minutes of data gathering is more valid than teachers' year-long data gathering and assessment. The younger the child, the greater the unreliability of the test. Researchers know that young children vary greatly from day to day in performance depending on environmental factors. Poor sleep, nervousness, illness, or family stress could mean the difference between passing and failing. For these and other reasons, the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing state that a major decision about a student should not be made on the basis of a single test score (AERA, 2000).
IREAD-3 will impoverish Indiana's schools, in terms of instruction, relationships, and funding.
• IREAD-3 will likely cause school administrators and teachers to focus third grade reading instruction on test preparation for IREAD-3 and may limit time for more meaningful literacy activities.
• IREAD-3 disregards what is known about the cognitive development of children: there is a great deal of normal variation in the individual paces and paths of learning. It assumes that children have been taught to read in a particular manner, and will impose that manner of teaching upon our schools.
• Since children with disabilities may receive an exemption from IREAD-3 (but only after failing the assessment), it may result in more parents seeking a disability designation for their children. Not only does this have psychological ramifications for families, it will further burden the special education system and divert resources from those who have a more serious need for them.
• Schools must concentrate on helping parents and families understand the high-stakes nature of third grade reading. It seems unlikely that a context of anxiety will lead to children taking greater pleasure in reading and learning.
• Since “testing and remediation” is one line item in the state education budget, the cost of developing and administering IREAD-3 must be subtracted from the money available for remediation. A reduction of funding for remediation undermines the supposed intent of this law.
Lastly, IREAD-3 is an unnecessary test and a waste of public money. Teachers assess their students' reading skills frequently. In addition, most schools require third graders to take NWEA twice a year or ACUITY four times a year, and ISTEP+ in reading and math.
When you passed House Enrolled Act 1367, the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) chose to interpret the act as authorization for IREAD-3. By declaring this test the only factor for determining students' readiness for fourth grade, the IDOE has overstepped its mandate. HEA 1367 specifies that retention may be included as a last resort but that "appropriate consultation with parents or guardians must be part of the plan." We believe that strong literacy experiences in early elementary school are vital to students becoming readers and writers. Our tax dollars should go to local schools for literacy programs and teachers rather than to testing companies and the apparatus of assessment. Our legislature is ultimately responsible for the well-being of Indiana's educational system. We call on you to insist that the IDOE eliminate IREAD-3 before it further damages our children and our schools.
1. Jimerson, S. R. (2001a). Meta-analysis of grade retention research: Implications for practice in the 21st century. School Psychology Review, 30, 420-437.
2. Pagani, L., Tremblay, R.E., Vitaro, F., Boulerice, B., McDuff, P. Effects of grade retention on academic performance and behavioral development. Developmental Psychopathology. 2001 Spring;13(2):297-315.
3. Heilig, J.V., and Darling-Hammond, L. Accountability Texas-style: the progress and learning of urban minority students in a high-stakes testing context. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis. June 2008; 30(2):75-110.
4. Florida Association of School Psychologists. Position statement on Florida's third-grade retention mandate (PP3rdGrdRet.pdf, available at www.fasp.org). Cites data provided by the Florida Department of Education for the 2002-2003 school year.