The tests used to determine whether students are reading at grade level go well beyond simply being able to read.
Iowa introduced a new reading assessment test last year that follows the principles of the “Common Core,” a set of educational standards adopted in 45 states and the District of Columbia.
The test at the critical third-grade level is designed to determine a child’s ability not just to read the words on the page, but to read for comprehension, said Cathy Welch, director of statewide testing programming for the Iowa Testing Programs at the University of Iowa College of Education.
During the Iowa Assessment, students read a series of short stories and then are tested on their ability to identify key ideas from the story, such as the explicit and implicit meanings of words and the author’s intent in choosing certain words.
The test in Illinois is similar, said Jim Palmer, coordinator of the Illinois Standards Achievement Test.
In a sample question from the Illinois third-grade test, students are asked to read a short story about the members of a struggling soccer team and how they learn to support each other.
The questions about the story challenge the students to find the best synonym for the word “charged” in the story, determine why the author chose to compare the ball to “an eagle in flight” and identify the purpose of one character’s speech to his team.
Palmer said students not only must be able to read the story, they must “decode” its meaning.
Illinois is in the process of transitioning to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers assessment test beginning in the 2014-2015 school year. The test is designed to more closely align with the Common Core principles.
Students also are required to read multiple stories that are related and make correlations between them, Palmer said.
Welch said although the Iowa assessment tests are required to be given in grades 3rd through 8th and in 11th grade, there are several tests available for school districts to use to determine reading ability in kindergarten through second grade. She said about half of Iowa school districts conduct reading assessment testing in second grade and about one-tenth conduct the testing in first grade.