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School overcoming obstacles despite bad test scores

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OKLAHOMA CITY - Third graders and their parents were anxiously awaiting individual reading test results Friday.

Parents and teachers have complained about the stress and anxiety that come with the third grade end of year exam.

It is a key factor that determines whether the kids move on to the fourth grade.

In one small school, Crutcho, there are serious challenges.

Only four out of 38 students passed the test, labeled proficient.

12 passed with "limited knowledge" and will need intervention when they hit the 4th grade.

For the remaining 22 third graders at that school, moving on will mean facing obstacles.

Before driving away from the school, Amanda Biffel was fuming.

The mother and substitute teacher learned many of the third graders will likely be held back a year.

"I think it's a bunch of crap," said Biffel. "I mean no kid learns the same way. You know? They don't process the same..."

Perhaps that showed in the failed reading exams.

Superintendent Teresa McAfee-Wagner says that result has a lot of meaning behind it.

"What I see is something we need to work on," said McAfee-Wagner.

This district is unlike any other in Oklahoma City.

It's a one school district.

The poverty rate is at 100 percent.

The school provides clothing and food to the kids.

Carrying plastic bags of that food, the kids left the building Friday.

That's the weekend rations they take home. If they have a home.

"Of my 360 plus students, 70 or more are considered homeless," said McAfee-Wagner. "They bounce from one poor school district to another. Sometimes, they are at four or five different schools a year."

When they are home, many of these students live in what educators refer to as the panic zone.

"I have had children who watched their mothers gunned down in front of them in the driveway," said McAfee-Wagner.

The school Principal, Robert Killian explained, "These kids go home to an environment where their house is just as likely to be shot up tonight as they are to have a meal."

Killian is the part time Principal at Crutcho.

He partially retired in order to save a teacher's job as lawmakers continue slashing the education budget.

"The kids now want to be here because they know how we feel about them," said Killian.

The kids might have a hard time adjusting to the third grade standardized test, but by eighth grade, an average of 80 percent of Crutcho kids pass the reading exam.

"It means it takes longer to prepare them. You can't close an achievement gap overnight," said McAfee-Wagner.

Students at their school are showing growth in every aspect: discipline, parent involvement and grades.

So should they be held back?

"I understand the research that says students not reading on grade level by the end of third grade were more likely to go to prison," said McAfee-Wagner. "Okay. Maybe that's true, but what does the research say about retaining kids?"

Studies show kids who repeat a grade are more likely to drop out of school completely.

In the past, a student's grades determines if he or she passed the current grade.

Some educators feel they know why times have changed.

"The test decides because it's big money," said McAfee-Wagner. "And if they fail, guess what's next. Billions on remediation. It's a money game."

Parents are pressing lawmakers to change the law. They say, let teachers teach the child, without the stress of the test.

"Our legislature is putting so much pressure on them for these stupid test scores," said Biffel. "It's not about a score. It's not about a number. It's about a child."