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News State / Region New law sets bar high for reading proficiency

Read to Achieve initiative eliminates social promotion.

Monday night, Carol Waldroop spoke to members of the board of education regarding the districts plan to implement the state's new Read to Achieve law, which was passed by the General Assembly during the 2012 session.

North Carolina’s Read to Achieve program, which takes effect this school year, is an attempt by lawmakers to introduce mandates intended to ensure that all children who advance to fourth grade have the reading skills to succeed and test at proficient levels.

The law defines "reading proficiency" as meaning a student is reading at or above a third grade level by the end of the school year, and the reading level is demonstrated by the results of the state-approved standardized test of reading comprehension given to the students.

Under the new law, third-graders across the state who fail the end of grade reading exam in the spring of 2014 face retention, though they will have multiple opportunities to retake the test.

Schools are given the option to also utilize a “good cause exemption” to promote some children, including those with limited English proficiency or disabilities, and children who have previously been retained.

In 2012, almost 30 percent of third-graders in North Carolina failed the end of grade reading exam and according to Macon County Schools Superintendent Dr. Chris Baldwin, the state's current average of students who are able to pass the exam is around 50 percent.

Comparing the new law to learning a new sport, Dr. Baldwin believes in time and with practice, that number will improve. “It is like taking a group and asking them to do the high jump for the first time,” explained Dr. Baldwin. “You set the bar high and at first, most of them cannot clear it. But in time, with practice, they become better and eventually are able to clear the bar.”

Waldroop explained that regardless of the student's performance throughout the year, if they do not test proficient on the end of grade reading exam, that student has the potential to be retained. With North Carolina's proficiency standards also changing this year, a child must answer correctly at least 36 out of 44 questions on the end of grade reading exam in order to be considered proficient, according to Dr. Baldwin.

The Read to Achieve law is developed based on seven key components:

1) Developmental Screening and Kindergarten Entry Assessment

Educators will begin focusing on five essential domains including language and literacy, cognition and general knowledge, approaches toward learning, physical well-being and motor development, social and emotional development.

Educators will also focus on early language, literacy and math within 30 days of school enrollment.

2) Elimination of Social Promotion
 
With the elimination of social promotion, educators will assess students and those not registering at a proficient reading level will be retained after third grade. Good cause exemptions based on students who have previous been retained twice or those with English deficiency who have been in school less than two years are among students eligible for a good cause exemption to not be retained and instead promoted to fourth grade despite test scores.

 Teachers are required to send justifications and documentation of good cause to principals, who will then make an initial determination of retention before seeking final approval from the superintendent.

Students with disabilities will not automatically be exempted from being retained. Only students who have taken the Extend 1 testing showing significant cognitive disabilities will qualify for exemption.

3) Successful Reading Development for Retained Students

Students who are retained to third grade are afforded multiple opportunities to advance including summer reading camps, accelerated classes, mid-year promotion opportunities and a third/fourth grade transition classroom which would primarily focus on reading with integration into other subject areas such as science and social studies.

Waldroop voiced her concerns with the summer reading camps in that while they are mandated by law and are ideally anticipated to be planned for this summer, the local district has little information from the state as to the requirements of the summer reading camps in regards to length or subject matter. Waldroop is also unsure as to how the state will mandate the programs be funded, as funds were not earmarked in the current state allocation for this school year to implement the program.

The only information the law gives school districts regarding the summer reading program is it has to be an educational program outside of the instructional calendar provided by the local school administrate unit to any student not demonstrating reading proficiency. Summer camps can be any where from six to eight weeks long, four or five days per week. The program has to include at least three hours of instructional time per day and must be taught by a compensated, licensed teacher.  

4) Parent/Guardian Notification

A key component of the law is working to secure parent involvement and intervention to ensure children are reading on grade level.  Parents are to be notified in a timely manner of the justifications of the student's level of reading and will also be notified of intervention methods being utilized through monthly reports on reading progress.

Parent involvement in their child's education goals is vital for the Read to Achieve law to be effective. Student absences, late arrivals and attention to homework need to be watched by parents from the first day of kindergarten, as well as parents committing to read to their children everyday at home.

5) Accountability Measures

Accountability measures in place to ensure the new law is in effect on the local level is constant documentation of published numbers of proficient, not proficient students, Read to Achieve testing, number of students being retained as well as those who are exempt.

These types of reports, to both the local board and the state, allow a constant tracking of the new law.

6) Comprehensive Reading Plan
 
Through improving reading achievement levels, school districts are expected to implement research based strategies for students who are not on target.  Macon County Schools is ahead of the curve through the Lindamood Bell Program, which is in its third year of providing research based techniques to improve reading comprehension and retention among students.

7) Facilitating Early Grade Reading Proficiency

For the program to be effective, encouraging early proficiency beginning in kindergarten is crucial. The law requires formative, diagnostic assessments for kindergarten through third grade and instructional support and services where identified as needed to help students develop on target.

With third grade being the determining year for students, the Read to Achieve program is a K-3 initiative. Teachers have to get students ready long before third grade in order to prepare them for success. 

East Franklin Elementary School has scheduled a parent information night next Monday, Nov. 4, at 6 p.m. to give parents more information about the new legislation.





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