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School board OKs exemption for testing

If third-graders’ Reading 3-D scores are high enough, they may be able to move on to the fourth grade, even if the students do not pass the reading portion of their end-of-grade test or Read to Achieve requirements.
The Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education unanimously approved the plan Monday, sending that alternative to the Department of Public Instruction.
“We want to give every child every consideration possible before we say, ‘You have to go to summer school before you’re promoted,’ ” said Rowan-Salisbury Director of Elementary Education Alesia Burnette.
Every Rowan-Salisbury third-grader takes the state-mandated reading test, but there are several “good cause exemptions” made available for those who do not pass.
These exemptions allow students to show they read at a third-grade level in other ways than a one-day test. Or they must demonstrate a viable reason why they can’t achieve reading proficiency at this time.
Qualifying for the exemptions, these students will then be able to move up to the fourth grade with the rest of their class.
The good cause exemptions include provisions for students with limited English proficiency, disabilities and previous retentions.
They are available for students who demonstrate a reading proficiency appropriate for third-grade students through the Read to Achieve program by either a completed student reading portfolio or an alternative reading assessment.
The Read to Achieve program, which went into effect this year, gives students the opportunity to move on to the fourth grade if they pass 36 reading passages in a portfolio.
However, the program has faced a great deal of opposition. School boards across the state, including the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education, have expressed their concerns over the difficulty of the reading passages and its disorganized implementation. Many believe the program was rolled out too quickly.
In response to these concerns, the N.C. Board of Education recently announced that school systems could submit alternative plans for a good cause exemption beyond Read to Achieve for approval.
Burnette and Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum Dr. Julie Morrow asked the board to approve a proposal that would allow Reading 3-D results to be used for a good cause exemption, as well.
Adding Reading 3-D as another good cause exemption will “expand that list a little bit,” Burnette said.
The program, which is already in place at schools across the state, administers reading assessments at the beginning, middle and end of each school year. It diagnoses what skills are missing and provides strong progress reports. Teachers can use this information to better structure instruction for each student.
The state school board also made some changes to Read to Achieve to improve flexibility and aid the learning process.
Teachers can now use the reading passages instructionally after a student completes the assessment.
“That just makes so much more sense,” Burnette said.
Parents also can see exactly how their child is doing, rather than receiving generalized progress reports.
Students must receive a 70 percent grade across each standard. Previously, they had to receive at least an 80 percent on each individual passage.
“It’s already made a huge difference,” Burnette added.
In December, the Rowan-Salisbury school board passed a resolution expressing its concerns with Read to Achieve and asking the Legislature for a waiver for the current school year.
Susan Cox thanked her fellow board members for passing the resolution, saying it “has been an instrument to bring light throughout the state.”
Chairman Dr. Richard Miller said several state legislators have told him the resolution was influential in bringing the issues to their attention.
Morrow and Burnette also updated the board on the district’s literacy team.
The team meets on a regular basis and is trying to define literacy and how to achieve it in Rowan-Salisbury schools.
Morrow said the group’s goal is to make sure everyone is on the same page.
The five components of reading the team is focusing on are comprehension, vocabulary, fluency, phonics and phonetic awareness.
The group will present its plan for literacy in Rowan-Salisbury schools in either April or May, alongside a framework for how to achieve it.

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