12/08/13 — Third-graders face new test

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Third-graders face new test

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on December 8, 2013 1:50 AM

A law that went into effect last year has drastically changed the way teachers educate students -- and has limited the power of school administrators to pass them on to the next grade.

In what was characterized, by director of elementary education Carol Artis, at a recent Wayne County School Board meeting as the "most comprehensive and impacting piece of legislation that I have seen in my 27 years," the N.C. Read to Achieve Law ensures not only that students and teachers can no longer rely on results from end-of-grade tests to determine what they need to work on, but also targets everything from early identification of reading proficiencies and providing instructional services to students to regular support and information to parents about the child's progress.

The goal of the law, Ms. Artis said, is to ensure all students become proficient readers by the end of third grade, even if it means having them repeat it.

But the program is not limited to third grade. Officials said other programs have already been launched to "front-load" education from kindergarten through second grade.

At a presentation to the school board this week, Ms. Artis discussed the program.

"We know in education we have a lot of ideals and we have a lot of ideas," she said. "This was your North Carolina General Assembly's bright idea."

Based on elementary education and reading, Ms. Artis said it is going to be a "comprehensive task" to ensure the program gets implemented.

While school districts will still identify students at the end of third grade who do not meet end-of-grade test standards and re-test them, there are other implications from Read to Achieve.

Perhaps the biggest is the facilitation of early grade reading development, which is actually not a new objective for Wayne County Public Schools, as the district has already been using a model called DIBELS, Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills, which is considered a tool of universal screening and progress monitoring, Ms. Artis said.

"All kindergarten, first-, second-, and third-grade children will be assessed," she said. "Those with reading deficiencies must be assessed every 10 days."

But it is the elimination of social promotion -- allowing students to advance to the next grade level -- that is drawing the most attention.

"Any student who's not rated proficient on end-of-grade tests will have to be retained," Ms. Artis said. "Principals will no longer have the power to retain students."

Instead, the superintendent will be the only one with the authority to make such decisions, she said.

When the end-of-grade test is given, she added, students who score as proficient will be promoted to fourth grade.

Those who are not proficient will be given a retest, their teacher's portfolio will be reviewed and the students must attend summer reading camp for six weeks -- three hours of instructional time in reading per day.

"If they don't go to summer camp, they will automatically be retained," Ms. Artis said. "After summer reading camp, we will look at their reading portfolio and will retest.

"If they don't pass -- are not proficient -- they will be placed in a transitional classroom, third and fourth grade (combination). Students who did not pass will be pulled out every day for remediation."

Another opportunity will be given to test again, at which time there is a possibility that the student could be moved to fourth grade. If not, that student is retained for the school year.

Ms. Artis said she is currently working on a tentative calendar of how the program will run, particularly during the summer months, to allow time to transition students before school starts.

"Wayne County is on track with this process," she told the board. "We already have a link on the website with all the resources for the initiative."

More information on Read to Achieve, including a video for parents, can also be found on the district's website, waynecountschools.org