It has been a rocky first year of implementation for the Read to Achieve standards in New Hanover County.
“A lot has changed. It’s a constantly moving target,” said Cynthia Shields, county supervisor of language arts, during an Aug. 18 update on the standards to the New Hanover County Board of Education.
Shields explained how the law, which establishes strict expectations for students not reading at grade level by the end of third grade, played out in classrooms during the 2013-14 school year and into the summer.
Shields said students are given multiple opportunities to establish proficiency during the school year, with both end of grade and Read to Achieve tests administered multiple times and a reading portfolio of 36 reading passages and assessments offering an alternate route to proficiency.
In New Hanover County, 270 third-graders did not demonstrate proficiency at the end of the 2013-14 school year. All were invited to summer reading camps, offered at four sites from June 30 to July 24. The camps provided a chance for third-grade students without proficiency to receive additional instruction and another chance to establish proficiency through a test or the portfolio.
About 200 students regularly attended the camps. Shields said 33 percent became proficient, leaving 100 students still struggling to read at third-grade level.
“We were really thrilled with this. We thought we really had some success,” Shields said.
Under the original Read to Achieve law, students who did not establish proficiency by the end of third grade would be retained. Shields said the law softened since then, offering school districts three options to address students entering fourth grade without established reading skills.
“Over time, the teeth in the law sort of eroded. It is not nearly as rigid, as strict, as it was once written for a variety of reasons, one of which is that several districts fought back against these things,” Shields said.
New Hanover County Schools chose to implement a transition class, where students labeled not proficient will enter a fourth-grade classroom but receive an additional 30 minutes of reading instruction each day.
If these students pass the Read to Achieve test on Oct. 28, they will be promoted to fourth grade status as proficient readers. If they do not establish proficiency, they will remain in the fourth-grade classroom with not-proficient status and take the fourth-grade end of grade exam in the spring.
Superintendent Dr. Tim Markley holds the authority to step in and lift the label of not-proficient at the end of fourth grade, even if the students do not pass the tests.
Board member Dr. Derrick Hickey questioned how students who finish fourth grade without established proficiency will be handled.
“Do we just forget about them, and for the rest of their lives, they lack proficiency in reading? Because if they’re not proficient in reading, what’s their success going to be?” Hickey said.
Markley said the students will continue to receive special attention as long as necessary.
“We’ll work with them for forever,” Markley said. He added that 100 students still lacking proficiency at the start of the 2014-15 school year only constitutes 5 percent of the total student population.