Program testing mastery in reading

By Tanya Chilton tchilton@civitasmedia.com

March 5, 2014

In the recent Elkin City School Board Retreat, Cynthia Altemueller explained to an audience that included parents, the public and school board members more about the Read To Achieve program, which is designed to make sure kids are reading proficient by the end of the third grade.

Superintendent Dr. Randy Bledsoe said the topic always brings discussion and is widely discussed. A parent at the retreat raised concerns that her son, a straight-A student, had been experiencing difficulty at school and reported health issues since the program’s implementation.

The language written by the General Assembly states the goal of the state is to ensure that every student reads at or above grade level by the end of third grade.

There are seven components of North Carolina’s Read to Achieve Comprehensive Reading Plan, according to a PowerPoint Read To Achieve presentation by Dr. Rebecca Garland, deputy chief academic officer, and Carolyn Guthrie, director, K-3 Literacy Academic Services and Instructional Support. They are Developmental Screening and Kindergarten Entry Assessment (KEA); Facilitating Early Grade Reading Proficiency; Elimination of Social Promotion; Successful Reading Development for Retained Students; Parent/Guardian Notification; and Accountability Measures.

Altemueller said during the retreat a bottomline for her as a teacher was remembering the overall purpose. “We don’t want to forget the purpose of teaching children to read,” said Altemueller.

According to state law, in a first reading, students must answer four of five questions correct for mastery of passage or 70 percent average.

When the program became law, parents could not find out what their child was being tested on to see the difficulty level of what was being required, but Altemueller said the law recently changed and now does allow parents to read the passage the children is being tested on.

Altemueller said the intent is to create efficient readers. “I don’t believe it is appropriate to circumvent the law. We want to give every chance possible,” said the Elkin City Schools teacher.

Bledsoe said with the legislation being passed it was up to Elkin City Schools “to do the very best with something that was legislated” and up to them to “do the best for our children.”

The school board asked specific questions about the program throughout the discussion, as to how the state law was specifically being implemented and intervention means provided for students provided they fell short. Some of those include one-on-one extra instruction, pre-empted by color-coded flags that designate where the student is in the process of reading review and the intervention needed. For example, yellow needs a little support, but red needs a lot of support.

There are several methods used to demonstrate proficiency at the third-grade reading level, and if the student fails, the proficiency options include retest of EOG or Read To Achieve Test and summer camp, according to educators.

Bledsoe affirmed that Elkin City Schools officials had been listening to community stories intently since the legislation was passed. “The most important thing we do is help students grow.”

Altemueller said in the discussion though learning to read is the primary focus, “to kill the spirit of learning would be the worst thing.”

The Read to Achieve program is part of the Excellent Public Schools Act which became law in July of 2012 and applied to schools at the beginning of the 2013-2014 school year. The law can be accessed through the link http://www.ncleg.net/Sessions/2011/Bills/House/PDF/H950v7.pdf.

Tanya Chilton may be reached at 336-835-1513 or on Twitter @TanyaTDC.