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Test results throw spotlight on reading at opportune time
It was an interesting glass-half-full, glass-half-empty situation Wednesday with the release of new state reading test results.
"68.6 percent of Nebraska students tested meet or exceed state reading standards," trumpeted the official Nebraska Department of Education release.
"Third of Nebraska students don't meet reading protocol," was the slug on the story from The Associated Press.
The testing was a "one-shot" deal, according to Education Commissioner Roger Breed, who said the testing will serve as a baseline to help underperforming schools to improve.
Under former Commissioner of Education Doug Christensen, the state fought to keep its one-of-a-kind assessment system, which let school districts create their own tests to measure No Child Left Behind and state compliance.
The U.S. Department of Education finally ruled that Nebraska failed to show they were a valid measure of students' knowledge.
On the first statewide test, about 147,000 students in grades three through eight, as well as 11th graders, were scored on a 200-point scale, with 85 to 134 meeting standards and 135 or higher exceeding standards.
About a third were below standards, nearly half met standards and about 20 percent exceeded standards. The average score was about 102.
Release of the scores will reopen debate on a wide variety of issues, such as local control and whether teachers are being forced to "teach to the test."
Ironically, McCook students who were taught using a controversial reading program four years ago -- since abandoned -- scored significantly higher than their peers, although officials dispute the significance.
Half empty or half full, it is good that renewed attention is being paid to reading. Traditional reading skills have been eroded by the increasing influence of video, Internet and, now, texting. Post-secondary instructors are finding many of their students in need of remedial education in language and math skills.
Reading is vital to all aspects of modern life, whether it is assembling furniture, driving across the state, providing or receiving medical care, holding down a job or even relaxing with a good book. It's also a foundational skill for all other types of learning.
With the state facing serious budget shortages, it's good that the release of the test scores throws the spotlight on one of the most basic of educational needs in Nebraska.
You can find the results for your local school district at:
Leave the forms blank and click the "search" button for a list of links to school district results.