Third-graders encouraged, rallied
All the third-grade classes in Vance County Schools were seated inside the dimly lit Skateeum rink Thursday morning that was illuminated by multicolored flashing lights and silver, shimmering disco balls.
The event, sponsored by the United Way of Vance County, was organized to rally third-grade students around the importance of reading.
At the end of the rally, each student received a new book and a bracelet from the United Way, which has launched a reading initiative this year to improve the reading skills of all third graders.
Northern and Southern Vance high school cheerleaders and the Southern Vance step team performed routines, and athletes from both high schools came to offer the third-graders an inspirational message about reading.
One football player asked the crowed of third graders, “Y’all want to go to college, right? Then you need to know how to read.”
Other athletes reminded the students to stay on track with reading and keep good grades in order to play sports in high school and beyond.
Of course, the high school students who spoke at the pep rally did not talk about the law passed by the N.C. General Assembly in 2012 requiring students who cannot read on grade level to be held back, instead of moving on to the fourth grade.
The Read to Achieve law is a part of the Excellent Public Schools Act, which was included in the state’s 2011 budget bill.
Reading proficiency is determined from the student’s score on the third grade end of grade reading test.
Students can also demonstrate proficiency through a student reading portfolio that is composed of 36 mini-tests, which students take after reading a passage and must score 70 percent or above.
Arnetra Terry, K-2 reading specialist, said teachers are starting to test students three times per week, but some say it is incredibly time-consuming.
“We just completed Reading 3D testing,” Terry said. “Principals and teachers are concerned about not having adequate time for instruction.”
Students who don’t initially pass the EOG test can still show proficiency by taking a different version of the EOG or another Read to Achieve test.
Terry said the portfolio is supposed to serve as a back-up option for students who don’t score well on a single test.
If the student cannot show proficiency through the tests or the reading portfolio, they must take Summer Reading Camp. Students taking the summer camp can retake the Read to Achieve test or the mini-tests to complete the portfolio. If they cannot demonstrate proficiency through the test or the portfolio, the student will not be promoted to fourth grade.
Concerns about the new law at the district level has spread to the state Department of Public Instruction.
The Read to Achieve Advisory Group, convened by state superintendent June Atkinson, agreed on several recommendations to bring to lawmakers.
• Reduce the number of required passages in the portfolio option to show reading proficiency. This would trim the amount of time being spent on this assessment process.
• Provide flexibility to local school districts regarding details of the summer reading camps required for students who are not reading proficiently at the end of the third grade.
• Allow school districts to have balanced school calendars to avoid summer reading loss.
• Treat charter schools and non-charter public schools equitably. Currently, charter schools are not held to the same standards under this law.
• Count the 2013-14 school year as a trial run year for Read to Achieve.
“Read to Achieve was developed with the goal of all children becoming good readers by the end of third grade,” Atkinson said in a prepared statement. “I think we all agree with that goal, but after some months of implementation, we see how the law could be improved to allow teachers and students to spend more effort on teaching and learning instead of on assessments.”
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