Wake County using reading portfolios for all third-grade students

Posted by T. Keung Hui on January 10, 2014 

Should the Wake County school system require reading portfolios for all 12,100 third-grade students or just the ones most likely at risk of failing the end-of-grade reading exam this spring?

As noted in today’s article, Wake isn’t taking any chances that they might miss students who unexpectedly fail. This means compiling portfolios for all the third-grade students, including giving them the series of 36 assessments that they can use the results from to argue that some students who fail the EOG shouldn’t be retained.

Click here for this handout on the portfolio process that was discussed at Thursday’s Wake County school board student achievement committee meeting.

The General Assembly designated five good cause exemptions in the Read to Achieve program. The reading portfolio exemption could potentially cover the most third-grade students to let them not be retained despite failing the reading end-of-grade test.

The portfolio can help students who just had a bad test day.

Under the porfolio, students will take three assessments for each of the 12 reading standards. The assessmetns involve reading a passage that’s one-and-a-half pages and then answering five multiple-choice questions. You’re considered proficient if you get four questions right.

State Superintendent June Atkinson said that DPI has developed 10 assessments for each standard. The districts pick the three they want. Atkinson said they’ve worked to make sure the reading passages are for between a second- and fourth-grade reading level.

Students are only allowed to take up to three of the assessments a week. So it will take a minimum of 12 weeks to complete 36.

Students can only do a cold read and can only take each assessment once. The assessments are untimed but should take between 10 and 15 minutes.

Schools are required to keep the assessments in a safe location.

Schools are supposed to keep portfolios for students who are at risk of not passing the EOG. But Sherri Miller, Wake’s K-12 literacy director, said a number of districts have decided to give them to all the third-grade students. She said this will catch students who unexpectedly failed and will also give teachers formative assessments they can use to see if the students know the standards.

James Overman, Wake’s senior director of elementary programs, said the 10 largest districts in the state all said in a Wednesday conference call that they’ve test all their third-grad students.

Considering the third-grade reading EOG passing rate last year was 45.2 percent statewide and 57 percent in Wake, a wide sweep may be better for the portfolios.

Wake’s year-round schools have started using portfolios. The traditional-calendar schools will begin by the end of the month.

Wake is making sure that the students have already learned that standard before they’re assessed on it.

Schools are expected to give the assessments during their literacy blocks.

School board member Jim Martin noted he had been a struggling reader at that age. He has dyslexia.

“This seems like torture for a struggling reader,” Martin said.

Todd Wirt, Wake’s assistant superintendent for academics, answered that they’re just trying to implement the legislation.

Atkinson echoed that sentiment in an interview, saying the legislature didn’t give the State Board of Education flexibility with the portfolio process.

Wirt said teachers are being told they can use the portfolio assessments to replace some of the common assessments they would have given.

Board members grumbled about the portfolio requirements and the Read to Achieve program.

“Why would anybody want to teach 3rd grade?” said board vice chairman Tom Benton.

“Why would anybody want to be a third grader?” Martin added, drawing laughs.

School board member Susan Evans related how a family friend had switched from teaching third-grade before this school year. Evans said she’s fearful that experienced teachers will avoid third grade.

“This seems to be an onerous, laborious add on,” board member Bill Fletcher, the new committee chairman, said of the portfolio process.

Superintendent Jim Merrill said that the portfolios should have been used on a smaller population. But with the cut score for the EOG being so high, he said to be safe they’re giving it to all the third-grade students.

“We’re covering our bases, regrettably, with this truckload of a portfolio,” Merrill said.

Merrill said that their requests to lower the cut score was rejected.

Atkinson said that the higher cut score is a reflection that they’re now holding students to mastery of the material compared to meeting the minimum under the ABCs program.

Third-grade students needed to get at least 36 of the 44 questions right on the reading EOG last year to be proficient. It used to be around half the questions needed to be correct to be a Level 3. At one point it was as low as 28 percent correct.

“An alarming number of North Carolina children can’t read proficiently by fourth grade – and without our help, they’ll be unprepared for high school, college or a successful career,” Amy Auth, a spokeswoman for stat Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, said in a written statement. “So it’s disheartening to hear the school board has placed doing what’s easy and convenient ahead of ensuring our kids have the skills they need to succeed in life.”

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