Florida Department of Education just released results of their Florida Standards Assessment  or FSA Test. 46% of all of the public school children who took the test were below standard and 20% are at risk for being held back in the 3rd grade.

What are these tests that can force 3rd graders to repeat a year?

A sample 3rd grade reading passage (with questions and answers) is provided by the Department.

The passage was clearly developmentally appropriate for 3rd graders – and ridiculous for dyslexic 3rd graders who are likely to make up 15% of every classroom. But don’t take just our word for it.

When we put the 3rd grade FSA practice reading passage through a readability tool,
FSA-readability-3-5grade
What was the passage appropriate for? Using different scoring metrics, the average grade determined was 4.9.

So why is a high 4th grade passage being chosen to determine whether a 3rd grade should be held back in the 3rd grade?

A huge problem for gate-keeping state assessment tests like the FSA is that they do not take into account the normal Screen Shot 2016-05-21 at 9.30.26 AMdevelopmental progression of dyslexic students.

From previous educational research (see below for Premium subscribers), we know that young dyslexic school children (poor decoders) undergo a later developmental spurt (late-blooming) that allows most to comprehend grade-level reading passages at the level of their peers by the time they reach the 8th grade. Poor comprehenders are fine with single word decoding, but struggle with reading comprehension.

The main point is why if we know that reading comprehension will come online later in dyslexic students do we trigger what may be severe test anxiety and inappropriate grade retention by testing students in the 3rd grade with advanced reading passages?

The question is not trivial. Children with LDs like dyslexia are at higher risk of depression and anxiety in schools, and test anxiety has direct relationships with higher levels of school stress, emotionality, and school avoidance, and lower self-esteem and self-efficacy. Higher levels of anxiety lead to lower working memory and academic performance, so a vicious cycle can take place. The issue is especially important in the setting of certain states assessments in the early grades because of the substantial evidence that grade retention has a negative effect on students with dyslexia and other LDs.

Strategies to Reduce Anxiety for Students with Dyslexia and Other LDs in Classrooms

Test Repair Practices:
– correct incorrect responses to improve grade
– answer extra credit questions
– take a different test
– have a one-on-one discussion with the teacher
– discuss the test as a class

Classroom Practices:
– Do not require to read aloud
– Do not require to answer questions at the board
– Provided extended time without singling out students. Most commonly teachers discuss with students the need for extra time and they can finish tests or other work at the end of the school day or other break.
– Allow assistive technologies
– Discuss anxiety in the classroom – model positive behaviors (allow stress balls, play soothing music, calm breathing)
– Model Positive self-talk – recognize effort, thinking process, and persistence
– Develop a pre-determined signal that allows students to take a break, get water, walk to office, etc.
– Develop a regular predictable schedule and modify assignments when needed
– Shorten school days as needed
– Identify a person that the student can check in with and talk to (counselor, nurse, etc)
– Find ways to communicate outside the classroom

Mindfulness meditation
– focus on the present and working with emotions

Test Design
– easier questions first
– adaptive questions if computer-based

Test-Specific Questions:
Is the test developmentally appropriate? Does the student need a reader to accurately assess knowledge?
Would it be appropriate to opt-out for this high stakes exam and reconsider instead for the future?

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