01/01/14 — Schools: Read to your children

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Schools: Read to your children

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on January 1, 2014 1:46 PM

Students in Wayne County Public Schools return to classes on Thursday, with educators hoping not too much momentum was lost over the winter break.

New rules regarding reading proficiency will impact state testing later this spring, and even a brief interruption in learning can be a setback, those who work with children say.

The Partnership for Children of Wayne County has long advocated that children from birth to age 5 are "born learners." Local library staff push the summer reading program as a way for students to maintain reading skills during the extended break, while physicians at Goldsboro Pediatrics are working on ways to motivate parents to begin early reading to and with their children.

High school students are not left out, as they, too, can lose ground during the semester break that coincides with the holidays. There has been ongoing discussion among school officials and the Board of Education about the state's school calendar, which results in students returning to class in January and immediately facing end-of-course tests.

"That's the worst schedule for high school students because too much insulation lapses during break time," said Hope Meyerhoeffer, director of English and language arts with Wayne County Public Schools.

But the biggest concern right now centers around third-graders, who will be under the microscope this spring as end-of-grade tests in reading will determine whether they will be promoted to the next grade.

The law, which went into effect last year, requires students scoring at Level 1 or Level 2 to be retained. The only exception will be students who fall under "good cause exemptions," which could be anything from having already been held back twice to having a disability or a reading portfolio of their work progress showing that they are proficient.

There is another option -- summer reading camp. Students who attend the six-week camp, and pass the test at the end, will be promoted. Those who still can't keep pace, or whose parents refuse to send them to camp, will automatically be retained for another year and provided with additional remediation.

While the end-of-grade tests won't take place until May, teachers don't have the luxury of time at this point.

They have already been working to get students motivated, Mrs. Meyerhoeffer said.

"We have had meetings with our parents, all of our parents, to discuss what will happen at the end of third grade when they finish taking their end-of-grade tests," she said. "What the parents are being told is to work with the children on their reading skills at home, purchase some little books for them to read with the children.

"They're encouraging this and of course, in the classroom, they're continuously working on comprehension."

During the summertime, when there is a longer break and thus more potential for students to lag behind, the school system is incorporating another effort to offset the problem -- summer backpacks with materials for the student and parent.

"We're doing that even for first and second grades," Mrs. Meyerhoeffer said, explaining the goal to "front-load" student learning in anticipation of the coming years.

"Teachers have also been informed of things that they need to do and to continuously talk to the students, no matter what they're teaching, ask them high-level thinking skills."

One twist is that there are still some unknowns, she said -- such as what will be on the test.

"We're pushing our children so that they will be able to comprehend what the end-of-grade test says and what's outlined.  But we don't even know (what's on it). The state has given us a sample," she said. "So we're trying to take care of all angles."

Helping their children brush up on their reading skills is something parents can and should take the lead in doing, Mrs. Meyerhoeffer said.

"Read and talk about the reading," she said. "Parents aren't experts. But get the children to at least recall the information in the reading that they're doing.

"We also encourage at all levels for parents to read to their child. You can tell the difference between whose parents started out reading to them at an early age. It makes a difference."

The need for reinforcing the message is not going away any time soon, Mrs. Meyerhoeffer said.

"It will be one of those continuous types of things," she said. "We can't wait until May, or until summer reading camp.

"If the parents haven't heard that, if they're not in attendance -- and we took attendance -- we send something home. At every one of our parent/teacher meetings, they discuss that, so they're getting (the message) double."

Students returning to class this week, especially those in third grade, can expect reading to take center stage when they reunite with their teachers.

"What they'll be doing is sample comprehension assessments, just to get the students in line again," Mrs. Meyerhoeffer said. "(They'll) let them read silently and then have questions for them to answer and go over after they have answered and talk and discuss why they selected that answer."