Half of Forsyth third-graders may have to take summer reading program

Southwest Elementary School in Clemmons (Winston Salem Forsyth County Schools)

Southwest Elementary School in Clemmons (Winston Salem Forsyth County Schools)

FORSYTH COUNTY, N.C. — As many as half of Forsyth County’s third-graders are being advised not to make summer plans.

Officials with the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools system said they’re expecting that between 1,600 and 2,000 of the district’s roughly 4,000 third-grade students will need to attend summer reading camp. Created by the state’s new Read to Achieve law, the summer school program is mandatory for third-graders who aren’t reading on grade level by the end of third-grade.

In Forsyth County, that will be quite a few.

Fewer than half of all third-graders passed their end-of-grade reading tests last year.

Janie Costello, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools’ program manager for language arts in elementary grades, said the district has been tracking progress made by this year’s third-graders and expects similar results.

“Hopefully it won’t be that high,” she said. “The potential is there.”

Several chances

Students will have several chances to earn passage to fourth grade. All third-graders will take the end-of-grade reading exam in the last 10 days of school. Those who pass that exam – scoring into one of three “proficiency” levels – are promoted to third grade.

Students who do not pass that exam can qualify for a “good cause” exemption. Those include passing the beginning-of-grade reading test, a local assessment given twice in the second semester or the Reading 3D assessment (another exam the district uses).

Students with fewer than two years of English and exceptional children who have an Individual Education Plan and take the Extend 1 or Extend 2 – alternates to the end-of-grade exam – also qualify for good cause exemptions.

Students who don’t pass the EOG or qualify for a good-cause exemption will take the Read to Achieve assessment, an alternate to the EOG. Costello said it will have the same rigor as the EOG, but will be formatted in a different way. Districts have not gotten to see the Read to Achieve assessment yet, but Costello said officials expect it will break material up into smaller sections and have questions throughout reading passages, rather than saving all of the questions for the end of lengthy passages. It could be helpful for students who can read and comprehend but get intimidated by large sections of text.

Students who do not follow one of those paths to fourth-grade promotion must attend summer school or they will be retained and required to repeat the third grade. The district is predicting between 1,600 and 2,000 current third-graders will fall into that category, based on the results on the assessments they’ve taken so far.

“We looked at how many kids have passed the BOG3, how many are on track with Reading 3D and how many have passed the first local assessment,” Costello said.

Students who attend summer reading camp will have another chance to move on to fourth grade before the start of school. They will take the Read to Achieve assessment at the end of the camp. Students who pass will move on. Those who don’t will be placed into a “transitional” classroom where they will receive some fourth-grade material but still receive extra instruction in reading. Those students will take a reading exam after the first semester in the transitional classroom. If they pass that exam, the retained label is removed and students are promoted to the fourth-grade.

Actual count not known

The district will not actually know how many students will be assigned to summer reading camp until the end of the current school year, but officials are planning for as many as 2,000 students in 10 sites. Those have not been named yet, but they will be spread across the county. Students will be assigned to the site closest to their school.

The number of students from each school will vary greatly. It’s impossible to say exactly how many students from each school will need summer reading; results from the reading test third-graders took at the start of the year give an idea.

Less than one-third of current third-graders passed that beginning-of-grade test – meaning halfway through the year, 70 percent of students had yet to earn promotion to fourth grade. Naturally, the passing rates on that exam varied greatly. Following an unfailing trend of standardized test scores, the percentage of students passing tended to be lower at high-poverty schools than at wealthy schools.

Whitaker Elementary – with one of the lowest free and reduced-price lunch rates in the district – had the highest percent of third-graders pass the BOG3, with more than two-thirds. It was followed closely by Brunson and Sherwood Forest. Only eight of the district’s 43 elementary schools had at least half of students reading on grade level at the start of third grade. The others were Clemmons (50 percent), Meadowlark (50), The Downtown School (56.5), Vienna (57.8) and Lewisville (59.8).

Two schools had fewer than 5 percent of students pass their BOG3. Easton and Konnoak elementary schools had three and four students, respectively, pass the beginning-of-grade test. At 21 elementary schools, less than a quarter of students passed the exam. All but three of them have free and reduced-price lunch rates higher than 90 percent.

Breakfast and lunch

With the number of students in flux, the district also has to guess how many teachers it will need. Steve Oates, assistant superintendent for elementary schools, said the district is aiming for 20 students per class. That means the district will need to hire between 80 and 100 teachers for the program.

The camp will last six weeks – as required by the Read to Achieve Law – and run all day. Students will receive three hours of targeted reading instruction in the mornings and receive enrichment lessons in the afternoon. Those are intended to be something fun and different that students look forward to, Oates said. The camp will run Monday-Thursday, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Students will be fed breakfast and lunch. Transportation will be provided.

The state law only requires districts provide three hours of instruction each day. Beverly Emory, superintendent of Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, said the district wanted to provide a full day, not just for the extra enrichment, but also to make it easier on families.

“We were hoping we’d have money to do a full day because we know more parents be able to make that work,” Emory said. “I think the budget can make it work.”

Early intervention

The Read to Achieve law does not set out specific attendance requirements for the camp, instead allowing districts to set their own rules. Oates said the district is still discussing it, but there will be an attendance policy. Too many unexcused absences could have a student removed from the camp and sent back to repeat the third grade.

“You can’t make the progress you need to make over the summer if it’s used as a drop, as it’s convenient,” Oates said.

Letters have gone out to families, telling them their student could be eligible for the camp. Of course, they won’t know for sure which students are in and which are promoted to fourth-grade until the end of the school year.

Having to serve so many third-grade students this summer, though, means fewer children in other grades may be served.

Carol Montague-Davis, assistant superintendent for secondary schools, said any summer-school dollars left over after all of the third-graders have been served will be put toward middle-school students, but details for that program have not been worked out yet.

The district is looking for ways to get to students before they need summer reading camp, though. It’s using federal dollars set aside for schools with high percentages of poor students to run a three-week, optional program for second-grade students. Oates said between 1,000 and 1,500 second-graders will be invited to summer school to receive extra reading instruction. It’s targeted at the students who may already be struggling with reading. The district is hoping if it can reach them before they get to third grade, there may be fewer students who need summer reading camp next year.

“We’re trying to catch some of these (students) and give them some extra help so they aren’t facing this next year as third graders,” Oates said.

BELL, the organization the district contracts with run to its summer programs, will run the third-grade summer reading camp and provide services to middle school students should funds be available for that program. The district Title I office will run the second grade program.

Any time for fun?

Everyone seems to agree that the intent of Read to Achieve – making sure students can read on grade level by the time they reach the fourth grade – is laudable. The implementation of the law has been anything but smooth, though. It’s been tweaked multiple times, and the state board of education has approved measures to give districts flexibility – but different districts have been granted different measures and have interpreted the law in different ways. Read to Achieve and summer reading camps will vary across the state.

If all of the changes have been difficult for districts to understand, they’ve been near impossible for parents.

Cherie Brewer has four third-graders at Shady Grove Elementary School in Davie County. Brewer said she feels like the state has just thrust this new law on parents without giving them enough time to understand it. Brewer said she tries to be an advocate for her children and is actively involved in their education, but has found it near impossible to make sense of the Read to Achieve law.

“It’s a grand goal, and I’m all for it,” Brewer said. “But don’t run it mid-year and don’t not have the kinks worked out. Parents can’t keep up.”

One of Brewer’s children was recently identified to have a reading-specific learning disability. She’s worried he’ll be required to attend summer reading camp while his three siblings will not.

“What happens to him?” She asked. “He has to go to school and watch his three siblings get to have fun.”


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