Extra Credit: Reading Test Results Were Hard to Read

(By Julie Zhu)
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By Jay Mathews
Thursday, April 2, 2009

Dear Extra Credit:

We recently received the results of the Degrees of Reading Power test for our sixth-grader, and I am perplexed by the letter from Arlington public schools that accompanied the test results, just as I was when our daughter took this test in second grade and fourth grade.

The letter states that DRP test scores range from "a low of 15- to a high of 99+ (a score exceeding the maximum of 99)." I am left wondering how any score, even in theory, can "exceed the maximum." Even well-educated parents who closely monitor their children's academic progress can't intuit their child's reading level without more context than the county provides with these test results.

The only context the county letter provides is that the national average DRP instructional score for sixth-graders tested in the fall is 56. It would be at least as useful to know the average for Arlington County students. On the Arlington public schools Web site, I was able to find that the average DRP instructional score for sixth-graders at Swanson Middle School in the fall was 71, which, I determined through further investigation, corresponds to a 10th-grade reading level.

If the national average score is the only information given by Arlington schools because the DRP test is used primarily to identify students who need remediation, perhaps kids who are found to read well above grade level should be exempt from the test after second grade, saving the school system the expense of testing proficient readers. If the test is intended to provide specific information about the reading levels of all students, then that information should be relayed with sufficient context to inform parents -- and used to provide appropriate classroom instruction.

Karen H. Lewis


That sound is me cheering for you and the other conscientious parents who help make our schools better and animate this column. Arlington schools spokeswoman Linda Erdos was also impressed. She said other parents had also contacted school officials about that tortured prose, and they have resolved to make future communications more parent friendly. The grade 4 letter has gotten a combing, with tangled language hopefully removed. "We are also working with parents and some of our advisory groups to develop added Web resources for parents to better explain the complexity of the many different tests that are administered throughout a child's educational experience," Erdos said.

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