NHC schools opt for alternatives to prep students for testing

by Kelly Corbett
Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Staff photo by Allison Potter 

Parents attend a Read to Achieve informational meeting at Roland Grise Middle School on Monday, Feb. 10.

The North Carolina State Board of Education granted permission Friday, Feb. 7, for 30 school districts to use local tests showing reading proficiency that meets Read to Achieve requirements.

This decision will allow districts more flexibility with the law and could reduce the number of students that have not met proficient reading standards at the end of the year.

While New Hanover County Schools is not among the 30 districts, the state board also offered the option to the remaining 85 districts to submit requests, which the Department of Public Instruction staff will decide whether or not to approve.

Read to Achieve was passed by the General Assembly in 2012 in an effort to require third graders to show reading proficiency before advancing to fourth grade.

As of Jan. 14, there were 2,048 third-grade students in New Hanover County Schools with 55 third-grade students at Wrightsville Beach School. 

Dr. LaChawn Smith, NHCS director of instructional services, said when looking at the beginning of grade assessments, the projected number who would have been required to attend summer camps was estimated between 40 to 55 percent, or 819 to 1,126 students. Smith said after the completion of a portfolio process, considered an alternative assessment process, the number was reduced to 15 to 20 percent, or 307 to 409 students.

“We’re having all of our students do the portfolio,” WBS principal MaryPaul Beall said.

“When you give the portfolio passages, the way I look at it, it can’t do anything but help get the kids ready for the tests. … A lot of schools are doing it with all of the kids. Because even the brightest kid can have a bad day and not pass an end of grade test, and I’ve seen that happen.”

Planning began prior to the Read to Achieve implementation date on Jan. 6. But there are still many unanswered questions, like what state funding might be provided for the summer reading camps.

“The original amount was around $286,000, and so that currently is our budget,” Smith said.

A Read to Achieve task force — made up of about 10 members representing administration, principals, Title I and non-Title I schools, exceptional children and special education — plans to draft a request to present to senior leadership and then the New Hanover County School Board, anticipated in March.

“I think you would be hard pressed to find someone who does not agree with the importance of ensuring that students, very young students, are able to read on grade level before progressing to more difficult and more complex tests,” Smith said. “That ultimately was the desired outcome and goal of the Read to Achieve law. I think the challenges have been in the implementation. You are being given something that is fairly prescriptive, and you’re asked to implement that and impose that on some existing structures. What’s happening now, in terms of the changes, it’s giving districts a flexibility while maintaining the same desired outcome, which is to ensure that children are able to read at a high level before progressing to the next grade level.”

The tentative start date for the summer reading camps is projected for June 23-25.

While other questions remain unanswered, such as requirements for children whose parents have a custody arrangement that would create challenges for summer camp attendance, those will likely work out case by case.

“There is not per se an attendance policy associated with [the summer camps], so for those families that have some scheduling conflicts, there may be some flexibility in the fact that there’s currently not an attendance policy for them,” Smith said.

Three Read to Achieve informational meetings have been held by NHCS for parents and WBS held an informational meeting in October 2013.

There are two more Read to Achieve informational meetings for parents scheduled on Thursday, Feb. 13, at 6 p.m. at Ogden Elementary and Saturday, Feb. 15, at 8 a.m. at Eaton Elementary.

email kelly@luminanews.com 

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