After resistance to program, changes make it more palatable

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 23, 2014

Read to Achieve was initially met with a great deal of resistance from educators across the state. Both the Kannapolis and Rowan-Salisbury school boards expressed their concerns with Read to Achieve to the N.C. State Board of Education.
In a resolution passed Dec. 30, the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education said, “The current assessments are harmful to students and counterproductive to the goal of proficiency in reading.”
The board asked for “an immediate stay of these assessments for the current school year.”
One week later, Kannapolis City Schools also requested a waiver from Read to Achieve, and suggested using the Reading 3-D, a formative assessment already used by all North Carolina third-graders three times a year, as an alternative to the program.
The board’s request cited several concerns with the program, including inappropriate passage length and vocabulary, lost instructional time and summer camp length.
The Mooresville Graded School District was also concerned about the age appropriateness of the selections. They tested the readability for 10 passages and found that only one of the selected passages was on a third-grade reading level. Six of the passages were between a fifth- and ninth-grade reading level.
After receiving a large amount feedback from schools around the state, several notable changes were made to the program.
Previously, students had to answer four out of five questions correctly, or get all of them right, on all three of the highest-scoring passages.
Now, the average of the three highest-scoring passages per standard must be 70 percent.
Teachers can also review specific passages with individual students or entire classes after they have tested on that selection. In addition, they can use up to three passages, picked by the district, per standard for instruction.
Parents can now have score results sent home as well, but can only see the actual passages in a parent-teacher conference at the school to preserve the security of the passages.
In February, the state Board of Education voted to allow local school boards to adopt alternative assessments, including Reading 3-D, as an alternative to Read to Achieve if a local board determines the assessment is valid and reliable. The school systems that chose to do this can still use Read to Achieve in addition to the alternative assessment selected.
Another significant change is a measure adopted by the state Board of Education that changes the rating system for standardized testing and will ultimately reduce the number of students who will even need to rely on Read to Achieve as a good cause exemption.
The old system divided students into four different groups based on their test scores. Levels three and four were passing and levels one and two required additional help or test retakes.
Under the new system, a fifth level is added, providing an additional passing level for students with sufficient command of the material, but who aren’t quite where they need to be.
With the new scale, levels five and four are equivalent to the old levels four and three. Level three is now equivalent to the upper end of the old level two. Level two is equivalent to the lower end of level two on the old scale. Level one remains the same.
Under this new system, more third-graders will pass the initial standardized end of grade test and will not have to rely on their reading portfolio or summer camp.
State Board of Education member Greg Alcorn stressed that the new scale is not a method of reducing the number of third-graders who must attend summer camps. Instead, he said a five-level scale makes it easier to more accurately pinpoint where a student’s skill level actually is and will be “more accurate.”
“The changes have been helpful. We just need more time to implement effective reading programs and strategies,” said Rowan-Salisbury Superintendent Dr. Lynn Moody.