On the heels of this week’s legislative hearing scrutinizing the state’s new Read to Achieve program, which could keep as much as 65 percent of the state’s third graders from passing at the end of this school year, the Department of Public Instruction convened a special committee today to provide feedback on how to improve the implementation of the program.
A 2012 law spearheaded by Sen. Phil Berger now requires that all third graders be deemed proficient in reading before moving on to the fourth grade — if they fail to achieve that benchmark, students will have to attend summer reading camps this year in an effort to move on to the third grade.
Members of the Read to Achieve advisory committee, which includes district superintendents, teachers, principals and elementary education specialists, echoed many of the concerns that parents and teachers have had for weeks.
“I think the intent of the law is good,” said Paula Flythe, director of elementary education for Edgecombe County Schools.
“But I am in a high poverty district where a very large percentage of students are not on track to be proficient, based on their BOG scores,” said Flythe, referring to Beginning of Grade tests that students take at the start of the school year.
With so many students likely to be required to attend state-mandated summer camps in order to move on to the fourth grade, Flythe says her district is in a bind. “State-provided money for the summer camps is likely to be insufficient to cover their cost, so we are left to figure out how to fund them.”
Also of great concern are portfolios, which serve as one of five ways that students can demonstrate reading proficiency. If students don’t pass end-of-grade tests, they can use portfolio scores to demonstrate reading proficiency instead.
That means over the course of this spring semester, students could be tested three times over on 12 different reading standards — resulting in 36 “mini-tests” that require students to read passages and answer questions.
Some school districts are mandating all students to go through the portfolio process, forcing teachers to administer to their third grade students 36 tests, in addition to other state-mandated tests, over the course of the spring semester.
“That was never our intention,” said Lou Fabrizio, Director of Data, Research and Federal Policy for DPI, which was the agency responsible for developing assessment metrics to be used in the portfolio process.
Thirteen local school districts as well as a consortium of other school districts are putting forth alternative assessment proposals to the State Board of Education next week, which the Read to Achieve law allows for. If the board approves any of the alternative assessments, all districts in the state can use any one of those as well.
At the conclusion of the three-hour meeting, members of the advisory committee endorsed the following recommendations for lawmakers to consider as amendments to the Read to Achieve program as well as general policies to consider as the short legislative session approaches. (This is a preliminary list and likely subject to change.)
- Reduce the required number of passages students must master in order to demonstrate proficiency;
- Provide local school districts more flexibility in how they administer summer reading camps;
- Allow local school districts to adopt more balanced school calendars;
- Allow students who are not reading proficient at the conclusion of a summer camp (or similar) to be promoted to the fourth grade, with appropriate instructional interventions in place;
- Offer traditional public schools the same flexibility in complying with the Read to Achieve law that charter schools currently enjoy; and
- Consider using the 2013-14 school year as trial run for Read to Achieve, which would mean districts would not implement a retention policy or conduct summer reading camps.