Wake County school board members complain about Read To Achieve

Posted by T. Keung Hui on February 5, 2014 

Wake County school board members blasted the implementation of the state’s Read to Achieve law even as they hope to persuade the State Board of Education to allow the district to use local tests that could exempt thousands of third-grade students from facing summer reading camps and retention.

On Tuesday, Wake school administrators laid out how they’re hoping the State Board will allow them to say that students who scored a Level 3 or higher on first or second quarter CASE 21 tests have demonstrated reading proficiency under the Read to Achieve program. If that’s approved Thursday, administrators say they will go along with this plan to also exempt students who scored a 442 on the beginning-of-grade state reading test and special-education students who will take the EXTEND 2 alternative state reading test.

All three exemptions would cover 6,800 of the 12,109 third-grade students, meaning those kids don’t have to worry about the six-week long reading camps for those who fail the end-of-grade test. It also would mean they’re not required to take the 36 mini-tests that are part of the reading portfolio exemption.

After the briefing Tuesday, school board members praised Wake school staff for trying to make Read to Achieve work. But board members complained about how the state was implementing the law that was the brainchild of the General Assembly.

“I think it’s very sad that this has turned into a political question because I don’t know of any adult that doesn’t agree that we need to do everything we can do to help young people read,” said school board vice chairman Tom Benton, a retired teacher and principal. “We know what it’s going to do to their lives if they leave school without being able to read. Because of the position that we are in, we’ve just spent I don’t know how many minutes talking about assessments. We’ve not talked about what are we going to do to help kids read.”

Benton proceeded to ask staff a series of questions to show that the state approved Read to Achieve without implementing a new state literacy plan, providing professional development or providing funding not related to testing. He also pointed to how this school year the state cut funding for teacher assistants while not reducing class sizes or increasing funding for instructional supplies or textbooks.

“This is what concerns me,” Benton said. “We put in a new expectation, and again it’s a good expectation. I would love to say that, but it looks like we’ve tied our teachers into just more assessments without giving them the tools or the time to do more to actually teach the skill of reading. Am I missing something, misinterpreting something?”

Benton brought up comments from parents who spoke at the Jan. 21 board meeting that Read To Achieve, meant to end social promotion and make sure students can read by the end of third grade, is taking the fun out of reading.

“What are we doing to third-grade students?” Benton said. “We may be teaching them to have the basic skill of reading. But we’re going to drive every ounce of enjoyment of reading out of these kids if we’re not careful.

I remember back when we were putting in EOGs and we were working extremely hard at my middle school to raise test scores. And my media coordinator came in one day and put a Mark Twain quote on my desk. I’m going to paraphrase it because I don’t remember it exactly.

And the quote was something along the lines ‘a person that can read but doesn’t is no better off than a person who can’t read.’ And so my point Tom is that we’re doing all this work to try to make sure our kids can read based on a standardized test score, but we have driven every ounce of enjoyment out of reading. “

Benton asked staff about assessing students’ attitudes toward reading.

“I’m just greatly concerned,” Benton said. “I hope that we will work with our staffs to not only get kids up to basic reading levels, but also to somehow find the time to make sure that kids can enjoy reading for what it is.

In lieu of all this, I’m just deeply, deeply afraid that we are going to be extremely sorry down the road that we have produced kids that do know how to read but choose not to. I guess that wasn’t a question. It was a political statement.”

School board member Jim Martin said “amen” as Benton closed his remarks.

School board member Susan Evans said she wanted to add on to Benton’s comments while making sure that her criticism wasn’t being addressed to what Wake school staff was doing.

“I’ve heard from quite a few parents who tell me that their kids are so stressed out they don’t even want to go to school, these third-grade students,” Evans said. “Most of the parents that are contacting me say my child is highly proficient. There’s not even an issue about wondering about whether or not my child is going to be successful, more than likely. But we have children crying not wanting to go to school now and already getting very anxious about this end-of-grade test.

So I think the concern that we’re trying to voice here is while we all want to raise the bar on literacy for all of our students, we’ve got to make sure that the powers that be are focusing on the things that will really do that. This Read To Achieve scenario is feeling very punitive to a lot of the students, and it’s just going to be very discouraging to a lot of them.

So I think we do have to be a voice in the community, that we need better direction in this area. While the intention behind this legislation was good, I just really don’t think that it’s going to have the desired result.”

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