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State Board of Ed approves alternatives to Read to Achieve portfolio

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Members of the State Board of Education approved today multiple alternative assessment methods for determining third grade reading proficiency, which were put forth by local school districts in an effort to reduce the burdensome testing methods that have fallen upon third graders across the state thanks to a new law passed in 2012.

“This is a train wreck,” said Mark Edwards, Superintendent Advisor to the Board, about the implementation of the new state mandate that requires all third graders to read on grade level before moving on to the fourth grade.

Edwards relayed stories to fellow board members of students throwing up in the morning before school and teachers worrying that the “assess and test” approach is killing the joy of reading for their students, thanks to the raft of tests that are coming down the pike as a result of the new law.

The Read to Achieve law is championed by Senate President Phil Berger, who wants to reduce the number of students being passed on to higher grades who are not reading an appropriate level. But the legislation has local school districts scrambling in the first year of implementation to make sure students do advance to the fourth grade. It has been projected up to 65 percent of third graders could fall short of the reading proficiency benchmark, in part because North Carolina is in the early stages of implementing more rigorous standards, including Common Core.

Students in third grade now have five pathways to demonstrate proficiency in reading and move on to the fourth grade:

  • Pass a Beginning of Grade reading test (BOG), or
  • Pass an End of Grade reading test (EOG), or
  • Pass a state-developed alternative test, or
  • Meet 70% proficiency on passages in portfolio, or
  • Pass State Board of Education-approved local assessments.

Local school districts are worried that student performance on a test that happens on one day of the year will leave many reading-proficient students in a position to fail, even though they may be ready to move on to the fourth grade. Those students who don’t pass by way of one of those five pathways can attend a summer reading camp provided by the school district in a final attempt at promotion to the fourth grade.

Many school districts have decided to require all of their students to go through the portfolio process to cover all of their bases, in the hope that they will be able to advance more students. That process requires that students take 36 short tests on state-developed reading passages, some of which teachers say are more difficult than the third grade reading level.

“We had some instances where reading passages were at a 9th grade level as well as one that was at a 7th grade level,” said Superintendent Edwards.

Teachers are complaining that the administration of the portfolio process leaves very little time for actual teaching.

“Getting through 36 tests for each third grader creates a huge pressure cooker environment for both students and teachers. There’s a lot of consternation, worry and angst,” said Edwards.

Following a provision in the statute, fifteen local school districts and one consortium of school districts decided to come up with alternatives to the portfolio, which were put forth to Board members this week.

Some members expressed concern that the alternative assessments could fail to measure up to the intent of the statute, which is aimed at ensuring all third graders who are promoted to the fourth grade are proficient readers. That concern nearly delayed a vote on the alternative assessments until next month.

But State Board member Buddy Collins floated the idea of alternative assessments that were put forth being signed off on by local school boards in order to gain approval. Members agreed and required future proposals to have local school board sign off as well.

Once the locally-developed alternative assessments are officially endorsed by their local school boards, any of the state’s 115 school districts can pick and choose from those alternatives for use in their own school districts in lieu of the portfolio system.*

Last week, an advisory committee convened to consider ways to improve the Read to Achieve law’s implementation. At the conclusion of the three-hour meeting, members of the advisory committee endorsed the following recommendations for lawmakers to consider during the upcoming short session.

  • 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 end of 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.

Stay tuned for further developments to the implementation of the Read to Achieve law.

*After the State Board of Education meeting on Thursday, DPI officials told NC Policy Watch that local school districts that want to use another local’s alternative assessment must still have their own local school board sign off on it and verify that it’s a valid and reliable standardized assessment that complies with the Read to Achieve Law.

Questions? Comments? Education reporter Lindsay Wagner can be reached at 919-861-1460 or lindsay@ncpolicywatch.com. She’s also on Twitter: @LindsayWagnerNC

Category: Political News

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