Two-thirds of DPS third-graders could face summer reading program

jalexander@newsobserver.comJanuary 24, 2014 

  • What’s changed

    The state implemented new tests in the 2012-13 school year based on the more rigorous Common Core standards. The result was that only 45.2 percent of third-grade students statewide passed the reading test last year. In Durham Public Schools, third-grade proficiency dropped from 58.5 percent to 33.4 percent.

— Two-thirds of the 2,500 third graders in Durham Public Schools may have to attend a summer reading camp or risk failing if End-of-Grade test scores stay the same as last year’s scores.

The Read to Achieve Law, pushed into state law last year by state Sen. Phil Berger, requires third graders to be proficient in reading by the end of third grade. Between kindergarten and second grade, students are expected to learn how to read. In third grade, students are expected to be reading to learn.

For Durham Public Schools, after the first year of the Common Core curriculum, tests showed only 33.4 percent of third-graders reading on grade-level, a number much lower than in previous years.

The Common Core standard is designed to prepare students for college or a career. Tests are harder and require students to think more critically.

“The thing about this law that is helping is giving extra support to children that have never had it before,” said Carolyn Guthrie, director of K-3 literacy for the N.C. Department of Instruction. “We’ve never had support like this.”

DPS officials worry about the new law’s financial impact.

“We agree with the fact that we all want our students to be strong readers,” said Stacey Wilson-Norman, deputy superintendent for academic services. “But when we look at the requirements to implement the Read to Achieve Law, we have concerns with the number of students that could be impacted.”

She said it could potentially cost the district a lot of money to provide that many students will the level of service the state requires.

“We’ve worked closely with all of our schools, giving them acceleration dollars for programs or support tailored for their individual schools,” Wilson-Norman said.

The support includes after-school tutorials, additional reading teachers and reduced classroom sizes, she said.

If test scores remain at last year’s levels more than 1,600 students not reading at a proficient level will have attend the six-week summer reading camp in order to move on to the next grade. More than 61,000 students statewide are at-risk.

“An alarming number of North Carolina children can’t read proficiently by fourth grade – children we’re failing and leaving unprepared for high school, college or a successful career,” said Amy Auth, a spokeswoman for Sen. Berger. “To move forward, we must all work harder, raise our expectations and make it unacceptable for any child in North Carolina public schools to leave third grade unable to read.”

Year-round students take the course throughout the year for the equivalent of six-weeks.

Students may still be promoted if they fall under one of five “good cause exemptions,” such as having already been not promoted twice, having a disability or having a reading portfolio of their work showing they’re proficient. Students can also avoid summer reading camp if they passed their BOG test at the beginning of the school year, retake the EOG and pass, or pass an alternative test.

“We’re very optimistic that we can work to get the number down and provide our students with as much support ahead of time so they are very strong readers going into the End-of-Grade test,” Wilson-Norman said.

Alexander: 919-932-2008; Twitter: @jonmalexander1

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