NC schools bracing for impact of Read to Achieve law

khui@newsobserver.comDecember 19, 2013 

  • In danger of not being promoted

    Third-grade students who fail the state end-of-grade reading exam are in danger of not being promoted under a new state law. More than half the state’s third-grade students didn’t pass the reading exam last school year.

    District – 3rd-Grade Passing Rate

    Chapel Hill-Carrboro – 68.1

    Chatham – 42.6

    Durham – 34.6

    Johnston – 44.3

    Orange – 48.1

    Wake – 57.0

    Statewide – 45.2

    Source: N.C. Department of Public Instruction

— As many as 50,000 North Carolina third-grade students might be in danger of having to attend a six-week summer reading camp to get promoted next year.

A new program mandated by the General Assembly requires third-grade students to pass the state end-of-grade reading exam or risk being held back.

With students about to start winter break, Wake County school officials on Thursday urged parents to encourage their third-grade children to keep reading and not fall behind over the next few weeks.

“What we want to do is make sure that we are promoting the need for our kids’ literacy and work and habits in schools to be emphasized even while they’re on break,” said Cathy Moore, Wake’s deputy superintendent for school performance, at a news conference Thursday at Dillard Drive Elementary School in Raleigh. “At no time in our school system’s history has it really been more important for our kids to hold on to and continue to make gains in their literacy skills.”

The Read to Achieve program, pushed into state law last year by state Sen. Phil Berger, calls for getting students proficient in reading by the end of third grade. Moore pointed to a 2011 study showing that one in six third-grade students who aren’t proficient in reading don’t graduate from high school on time.

“Addressing literacy skills early on is the best solution,” Moore said. “We want to deepen comprehension skills and build their skills early because it is more cost effective. It takes less time to remediate when children are younger than when they get older.”

The program comes as the state implemented new tests in the 2012-13 school year based on the more rigorous Common Core standards in reading and math. For instance, third-grade students are now expected to read longer passages and know harder vocabulary words.

The new state exams saw much lower passing rates than normal.

Last school year, the statewide passing rate on the third-grade reading exam was 45.2 percent. More than 58,000 students did not pass the exam.

In Wake County, the state’s largest school system, the passing rate was 57 percent, meaning more than 4,800 third-grade students didn’t pass the reading exam.

Moore said it’s too soon to say how many third-grade students are at risk of not being promoted. School officials are analyzing the results of the state reading exam given to third-grade students at the beginning of the school year.

What the law requires

Under the new state law, a third-grade student who scores at Level 1 or Level 2 on the end-of-grade reading exam given in May and June can be retained. Students may still be promoted if they fall under one of five “good cause exemptions,” such as having already been not promoted twice, having a disability or have a reading portfolio of their work showing they’re proficient.

Students who don’t qualify for a “good cause exemption” are placed in a free reading camp. The camp for traditional-calendar students will run from six to eight weeks during summer break. The camp for year-round students will be held during their track-out periods.

Students will automatically be held back if their parents refuse to let them attend the camp.

Students who pass after the camp will be promoted to the fourth grade. Students who fail will be kept in third grade and get additional assistance with a chance to be promoted mid-year.

The state is supposed to fund the reading camps. School districts are waiting for details about the funding.

‘We don’t want to scare them’

Schools are already helping their third-grade students get ready for the exam.

During Thursday’s two-hour literacy block at Dillard Drive, some third-grade students worked with their regular classroom teacher as other students read by themselves or read with a partner. In another room, Kim Hale, a literacy intervention teacher, worked with third-grade students who need more help with their reading skills.

“The kids know they need to work,” Hale said. “But we don’t want to scare them and make them anxious about the test.”

After the winter break, school officials will ramp up planning for the reading camps and determining who is at risk of being retained. Elementary schools are expected to hold meetings for third-grade parents in January to discuss Read to Achieve.

In the meantime, Moore, the Wake deputy superintendent, encouraged parents to buy paper and electronic books as holiday gifts for their children. .

“We want all of our children to continue to read over the course of any break that we have,” Moore said. “Winter break is an enjoyable time that parents and families spend together and a great time for kids to continue to hone their reading skills by reading to parents, reading to siblings, reading to a pet, reading all around.”

Hui: 919-829-4534

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