State OKs UCPS Read to Achieve alternative

Feb. 08, 2014 @ 03:59 PM

The State Board of Education approved Union County Public Schools' alternative assessment proposal for the Read to Achieve law. 

The Read to Achieve program is a component of the Excellent Public Schools Act the state legislature passed in 2012. The law went into effect for the 2013-2014 school year. 

Under the program, students must be proficient in reading by the end of third grade in order to move on to fourth grade. If students are not deemed proficient under the standardized test chosen, can attend a summer reading camp and then either be promoted or retained, based on their proficiency level after the camp. According to the law, if a student is retained they are provided with a teacher with demonstrated student outcome and put in a transitional class. They are also given a plan for home. 

Local school districts were given the opportunity to implement an alternative assessment to gauge proficiency. 

A resolution was passed and signed by the Union County Board of Education Tuesday night approving the recommended alternative and the state board approved the plan Wednesday. 

Superintendent Mary Ellis presented a resolution to the board Tuesday night and said it was at the behest of all 30 elementary school principals. She said it is a "valid and reliable" assessment. 

The resolution passed unanimously and was met with applause from the audience who remained after public comments. 

"We need more flexibility in the use of alternative assessments," the resolution, signed by the full board, read. "We respectfully request that the Reading 3D End-of-Year TRC (Text Reading Comprehension) test with a writing component be used in lieu of the portfolio process developed by (North Carolina Department of Public Instruction). Students that show proficiency at a Level P, or higher, will be deemed proficient in third grade reading. This assessment is a state-approved test." 

The resolutions adds that if needed, additional assessments can be applied through the modified Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) indicators by progress monitoring, using appropriate leveled progress monitoring tests...excluding two sections, as the test will measure comprehension, fluency and accuracy. 

The resolution adds that the system can apply standardized benchmark assessments through the "ClassScape" program, assessments that are currently administered in UCPS to students for "diagnostic data" regarding reading performance and proficiency. 

The alternative is similar to the DPI data collection, but ti modifies the DIBELS indicators and eliminates the Portfolio Passages in the Grade 3 reading portfolio. 

After approving the resolution, Board member Kevin Stewart commended the school for "standing up" to DPI. He said he is concerned about the "burdens" placed on systems by the department. 

Stewart said he would like to see less DPI and more teachers in the classroom. 

The Read to Achieve program has not been well-received by superintendents across the state. Ellis said in her superintendent's report that other superintendents are "railing" against it. She said they agree with the law, but not the "madness of implementation." 

Recently, an advisory group of local educators met to review the law and give recommendations to improve it, according to a statement from DPI. 

Read to Achieve was developed with the goal of all children becoming good readers by the end of third grade,” State Superintendent June Atkinson said in the 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.”

The advisory group, which was brought together by Atkinson, made the following recommendations for lawmakers:

That they reduce the number of required passages in the portfolio option to show reading proficiency, which would trim the amount of time being spent on this assessment process.

That they 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.

That they allow school districts to have balanced school calendars to avoid summer reading loss.

That they treat charter schools and non-charter public schools equitably. According to the statement, charter schools are not held to the same standards under this law currently.

The group also recommended they count the 2013-14 school year as a trial run year for Read to Achieve.