Yancey County Schools Meet the Challenges of Read to Achieve
The preliminary end of year assessment results for all grades K-12 are currently being analyzed at the local and state levels, and the early indications show gains being made across the board in the second year of the heightened standards of the NC Career and College Ready Standards initiative. Of particular interest are the results for 3rd Grade Reading in light of the NC Legislature’s House Bill 950/230 of July 2012, better known as “Read to Achieve (R2A)”. This piece of legislation basically stated that if a 3rd Grader was not reading “on grade level” by the end of their 3rd Grade school year or they did not qualify for a “good cause” exemption, a parent would have to decide to either retain their child in the 3rd Grade or allow them to attend a six-week “Summer Reading Camp” in an effort to move them on “grade level” before entering the 4th Grade.
As Yancey County Schools prepared for the R2A implementation at the beginning of the 2013-14 school year, district administration and YCS 3rd Grade teachers met to look at the early data for the incoming 3rd grade student cohort. On the North Carolina assessment standards previous to the 2012-13 school year, approximately 80% of our students were reading on grade level; however, the newer, more stringent standards that began in the 2012-13 school year showed that approximately 22% of YCS were on track to be reading “on grade level” by the end the year according to the NC Beginning of Grade Reading Test.
Third grade teachers and YCS District Administration continued to track that proficiency percentage through a series of ongoing reading assessments called the mCLASS Reading 3D Assessments, performed throughout the school year. By mid-December, the number of students on track for reading on grade level had risen to 55%. Shane Cassida, YCS K-12 Curriculum/Instruction Director who led the county implementation process, realized early on the difficult task that lay ahead for the county. “It was obvious that our teachers had worked extremely hard in the first half of the year to get that percentage of “on track” students over 50% halfway through the year, but none of us were satisfied with that result. We soon learned that our work was really just starting,” he said.
The Read to Achieve Legislation has a provision that allows students to begin to work on a set of portfolio passages with accompanying comprehension questions halfway through the year as an “alternate” means of showing reading proficiency. It is designed to help those students who do not necessarily perform well on a one-day “make or break” test at the end of the year. Students would need to pass 36 individual passages from January to the first week of June in order to show proficiency in this manner. With a lot of time, patience, and manpower, YCS 3rd Grade teachers and students began working on the portfolio on a daily basis in addition to their regular reading requirements.
In February, NCDPI and the NC State Board of Education allowed for a “local alternative test” to be developed and submitted by local school districts as an additional means of showing reading proficiency for a student. YCS developed a plan that utilized reading assessments that students were already required to do (mCLASS Reading 3D and the STAR Reading Test) as an alternate means of showing proficiency. The State Board approved the YCS plan and teachers began employing it in late February. Of course, the traditional means of showing proficiency, the NC End of Grade Test in Reading, was given the first week of June with a potential retest given a few days following if the student did not pass the initial EOG.
Of 183 students in Yancey County Schools 3rd Grade classes, 160 (85%) met 3rd Grade Reading Proficiency Standards as set forth by the NC Legislature’s Read to Achieve Law. Of those students, 61% were able to show proficiency on the very demanding NC Reading EOG, an increase of 12% from the 2012-13 school year. Seven percent (7%) of students in 3rd Grade qualified for one of the state’s “Good Cause Exemptions”. “For 80% of our 3rd Grade students to be reading ‘on grade level’ under these much more stringent standards, it says so much about the skill and character of our teachers and the work ethic of our students. I could not be more proud of our teachers, our students, and these results,” said Dr. Tony Tipton, YCS Superintendent.
Twenty-three students qualified for the Read to Achieve Summer Reading Camp, which began at Burnsville Elementary School on June 23 and will run until July 31st. An additional twenty 3rd grade students who had shown proficiency but who would benefit from the additional reading support were invited as well. The camp runs from 9 am – 12pm each day, Monday through Thursday. Those 23 students will continue the same portfolio, local alternative test, and summative assessment processes to show proficiency by the end of the camp. “We have a very engaging reading camp led by the finest reading teachers in our district,” said Cassida. “We believe that we have a great shot of moving the majority of those students to being “on grade level” as well.”
The NC State Legislature is currently in their short legislative session and are meeting to discuss alterations to the Read to Achieve Legislation for the coming 2014-15 school year.