Flexible Read to Achieve requirements helps students, teachers

by Miriah Hamrick
Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Adjusted Read to Achieve requirements for New Hanover County schools will result in easier implementation and less demand for summer remediation, with further flexibility possible in coming months. 

“It is more well-rounded and gives children who might demonstrate proficiency in different ways more opportunity to demonstrate it,” said Dr. LaChawn Smith, New Hanover County Schools Director of Instructional Services, during a March 21 phone interview.

The mandate has been met with criticism and confusion since the N.C. General Assembly passed the law in 2012. A harder end-of-grade exam was suggested to ensure third graders meet reading proficiency standards before moving to fourth grade. A portfolio consisting of 36 passages and short assessments is another way students can establish proficiency. 

Students not deemed proficient must attend summer remediation camps or be held back.

“The gist of the law and the desire behind implementing it — people very much agree on that. The challenge is implementing it statewide,” Smith said.

Portfolios were implemented in county schools in January 2014. Teacher concerns surfaced about class time required to complete 36 portfolio assignments while administrators faced insufficient funding to support an estimated 1,100 students in county schools who may need summer remediation. 

The New Hanover County Board of Education responded in March, approving a proposal for alternate Read to Achieve assessments. A combination of the Reading 3D assessment and a pared down portfolio process of 24 assessments now establish student proficiency.

State changes to the four-level scale for determining proficiency, where levels three and four were considered proficient, offered another opportunity for more students to prove ability. A five-level scale was introduced in March, where levels three through five qualify as proficient. 

 “More students meet the proficiency threshold than we originally thought,” Smith said.

As a result, demand on state funding for summer remediation programs eased.

“We weren’t going to have the funds to support our original numbers. The estimated dollars are more in line with our current numbers,” Smith said.

She said administrators hope the changes alleviate demand on county teachers, who saw 36 portfolio assignments as a burden. 

Wrightsville Beach School Principal MaryPaul Beall said the changes have not made a big impact.

“It hasn’t really changed a lot in the way teachers are monitoring progress. They are able to mesh it all together to make it work for individual classes,” Beall said during a March 25 phone interview.

All third-grade students at Wrightsville Beach began portfolios in January.

“Teachers say students are better accustomed to sitting down and reading passages and answering questions. I think it will help their performance for the end-of-year test,” Beall added.

Beall had no estimate for how many students at Wrightsville Beach School are expected to need remediation, but Smith estimated between 500 and 600 students county wide would need summer remediation by new proficiency requirements. 

Four sites are tentatively identified for the summer program. Ten classes of 15 students or fewer will be held at each site. 

Smith said summer remediation will last six to eight weeks but possible changes in coming months could allow increased hours each day and decreased duration.

“If we could increase each day to five hours, we could reduce the duration to four to six weeks,” Smith said, noting the added benefit of reducing transportation costs with fewer days.

Smith sees increasing flexibility given to districts during past months as an asset. Flexibility could come as a result of state board decisions or changes to the law during the General Assembly’s short session in May.

 “Nuances within each district present a challenge with implementing the procedures around the law. Additional flexibility to make it work while still meeting the law will help us create something more beneficial for students,” Smith said.

email miriah@luminanews.com 

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