DURHAM — School district officials say they plan to request permission to use local tests to measure third graders’ reading proficiency.
If the district receives permission, students who show they can do grade-level work will not have to attend a summer reading camp, as required by the state’s new new Read to Achieve Law.
Last week, the State Board of Education gave 30 school districts permission to use local tests as an alternative to up to 36 mini-tests, or assessments, that some critics have called excessive.
Under Read to Achieve, students are expected to learn how to read between kindergarten and second grade. In third grade, they are expected to be reading to learn.
The program comes as the state implemented new tests in the 2012-13 school year based on the more rigorous Common Core standards in reading and math. For instance, third-grade students are now expected to read longer passages and know harder vocabulary words.
Third graders who are not reading at grade level must attend a summer reading camp and pass a standardized test in order to move on to the fourth grade. The new Common Core standards led to lower passing rates statewide last year. If Durham students’ test scores don’t improve this year, about two-thirds of third graders would face camp.
Read to Achieve gives five “good cause exemptions” to promote a third-grade student who doesn’t pass the reading exam. Many of the exemptions fit only certain categories of students: those who have a learning disability, were held back more than once already or have been in an English as a Second Language program for less than two years.
A potentially broader exemption in the law allows students to show through a “reading portfolio” that they’re proficient.. However, the portfolios were based on the minitests some said were counter-productive.
Some students have been performing at grade level throughout the year, but are just poor test takers, said Stacey Wilson-Norman, DPS deputy superintendent for academic services.
“Our major concern is not only to make sure students are reading proficiently, but also to make sure that teachers have adequate instruction time to focus on the standards for all of our students,” she said. “The largest challenge is to make sure people are informed of the changes.”
The state board will require the local school board to approve the district’s using local tests before granting the state’s permission.
School Board Chairwoman Heidi Carter said the board plans to grant approval, because it will give the district the flexibility to implement the law.
“(The minitests) were rather duplicative of the test we already administer and very time consuming,” Carter said. “The local tests allows for more time for teachers to actually instruct students on how to read.”
Alexander: 919-932-2008; Twitter: @jonmalexander1