Kannapolis City Schools seeks waiver for Read to Achieve program

  • Posted: Tuesday, January 7, 2014 1:46 a.m.

Kannapolis City Schools Board of Education approved a letter requesting a waiver from the Read to Achieve program in a called meeting Monday afternoon.

“Many things come down here from the legislature and oftentimes we might question it, but in Kannapolis City Schools, we always have the attitude that we’re going to do it and that we’ll work our best to make it happen,” Superintendent Pam Cain said.

“We just felt like on this one, we had to let our voices be heard,” she said, citing concerns about the benefits for students and teachers.

“I don’t think anyone disagrees with the basic idea of the legislation. It’s the implementation that is the issue,” said Board Chair Todd Adams.

Several board members talked to Sen. Fletcher Hartsell and Rep. Linda Johnson about Read to Achieve and Patty Williams, director of Title I and Elementary Education was “very pleased at their response.”

“I don’t think that they understood how the implementation was directed,” Adams said.

Read to Achieve is a part of the Excellence of Schools Act, passed in 2011. The program’s goal is to ensure that third-graders are reading on their grade level before progressing to fourth-grade.

Students who participate in Read to Achieve must pass at least 36 reading passages from a state-issued portfolio. They can take three tests a week.

Students who fail their end of grade test, but pass their Read to Achieve portfolio will be given a good cause exemption, which means they will still be allowed to move on to the fourth grade.

If students fail both the end of grade test and their Read to Achieve portfolio tests, they must attend a six-week reading camp during the summer or repeat the third grade.

If they haven’t passed all 36 portfolio tests by the end of the summer, they can retake the end of grade of test.

“It’s not a way to teach children to read. It’s an assessment,” Williams said. “We’re spending more time assessing than teaching.”

The school board found issue with the age appropriateness of the portfolio passages, including their length and vocabulary.

In addition, the Read to Achieve program is time consuming. According to the Board of Education’s calculations, implementation will take 180 minutes a week, which means teachers will lose 2820 minutes of reading instruction a semester. That adds up to 30 percent of a semester’s total instruction time.

“We want teachers to have time to teach reading,” Williams said.

The board also feels the summer reading camps were poorly planned. Members fear a six-week program during the summer will discourage students from participating, because it would eat into family vacations and other summer activities. Teachers, too, would lose opportunities for professional development and vacations.

Teachers, administrators and board members were also frustrated that Read to Achieve standards keep changing.

“We realized that it was such a changing game, that we couldn’t articulate completely and clearly for the parents. That was problematic,” Cain said.

The petition to the N.C. Department of Instruction, N.C. State Board of Education and the Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee of the N.C. Legislature echoes the concerns of Rowan-Salisbury Schools, Mooresville Graded School District and many other school districts throughout the states.

Adams stressed that it was important not only that the board expressed their concerns, but that they also presented a solution to the problem.

The board suggested using the Reading 3-D program, which is already in place in schools across the state, in lieu of the reading portfolio. Board members believe Reading 3-D takes up less classroom time, diagnoses what skills are missing and provides better progress reports.

Another suggestion from the board is to shorten the reading camp to four weeks instead of six by having longer days. The camp would still fulfill the 72-hour requirement, but would be more cost efficient and encourage better student and teacher participation.

“Our teachers have been wonderful,” Williams said. “They have voiced their displeasure at losing instructional time, but their attitude has always been, ‘we will do whatever we are directed to do and make it work.’”

If no waiver is granted, third-grade teachers are prepared to start implementation Monday.

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