Looking at Wake County’s school literacy efforts

Posted by T. Keung Hui on October 26, 2013 

At a time when the Wake County school system is getting heat over the reading performance of its low-income students, school administrators say they’re addressing the issue.

As noted in today’s article, the Bootstraps PAC has targeted roadways in Wake and Chapel Hill with signs showing the percentages of low-income students in grades 3-8 who aren’t passing the state reading exams. The percentage in Wake, as of the 2011-12 school year, was 57.1 passing the exams. That works out to 42.9 percent failing.

But Wake school administrators say the numbers don’t reflect the changes they’ve made in recent years, especially at the K-2 level, to improve literacy rates.

“We’ve been making it a focus to get children reading at grade level by the end of third grade,” said James Overman, Wake’s senior director of elementary school programs.

Like the rest of the state, Wake has been implementing the new Read to Achieve program. The program, mandated by the General Assembly, calls for students to be reading at grade level by the end of third grade.

Third-grade students who fail the end-of-grade reading test next spring could be required to attend a summer reading camp.

The new state program requires all districts to use the mClass: Reading 3D assessment program.

For the last several years, Wake has been using a universal screening program to assess literacy.

Sherri Miller, Wake’s literacy director, said they’re also using one-minute measures, a series of quick assessments that occur regularly during the year to assess how the students are doing and what interventions are needed.

“We’re getting away from the old practice of waiting until the major assessments,” Miller said.

In recent years, Wake has implemented new curriculum and pacing guides and additional literacy coaches to work with teachers.

Miller estimated that are 30 more literacy coaches this school year alone.

Based on what they learned from the universal screenings, Miller said they realized they were missing a phonics-based program. She said they implemented it last school year in kindergarten, this school year in first grade and will expand to second grade next school year.

Miller said that new program is already seeing results.

Miller said that in the last two years they came up with new guides to help teachers provide structure for the 150 minutes a day of reading and writing instruction in elementary schools.

Wake is also implementing the Responsiveness to Instruction program.

Miller said they’ve also improved the training on literacy instruction for teachers.

The school system has also gotten involved in the WAKE Up and Read initiative, whose goal is to have all students reading on grade level by grade three. The initial focus is on school readiness, which includes encouraging parents to read to their children before they enter kindergarten.

Miller said the campaign will also focus on school attendance as not showing up in school holds students back from learning to read. She said they’ll also tackle the problem of summer learning loss, in which low-income students tend to fall behind academically during the summer because they’re less likely to be engaged in learning activities.

“We know this will take the community’s help to help children read,” Miller said.

In some respects, the picture will get darker before it gets better. The proficiency rates will get worse in Wake and statewide on Nov. 7 when the 2012-13 state test results are released.

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