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Summer school for third graders focuses on passing reading tests

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Summer time is now school time for thousands of third graders across North Carolina.

On Monday, specialized reading programs started across the state. They're meant to help third graders who have not passed End of Grade reading tests or Read to Achieve tests taken earlier this month.

That's close to 2,000 students in Guilford County, 800 in Forsyth County, 300 in Alamance-Burlington, 221 in Davidson County and 180 in Rockingham County.

The classes are the last chance these students have to pass third grade or risk being held back.

Some students, despite failing the reading tests, are given a good cause exemption to move on to fourth grade. They can be given to students with disabilities or less than two years of experience in English. In Forsyth County, there are 800 kids who qualify for that exemption and are still invited to the camps but not required to pass a test at the end of the program to move up.

Class times vary across school districts but they are required to provide 72 hours of classroom instruction before a new test is given.

In Guilford County, curriculum leaders started planning for the summer reading program in February. Whitney Oakley, the director of curriculum for pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, said the classes are necessary to keep up with Common Core standards adopted by the state a few years ago.

"Anytime we raise the bar we know it's going to be tougher for kids and so we've done that to this group of third graders," said Oakley.

Because the tests are taken so close to the end of the year, many school districts had to plan without knowing how many students to expect. Of the Triad school districts contacted by FOX8, most said they had fewer students than expected. That translates to smaller class sizes and more attention for the students who need it the most.

"I think the students are aware of why they are here but I think the culture or the environment that the teachers have created here will give the students an opportunity to feel confident in whatever they learn while they are here," said Wanda Austin, a site coordinator for the reading program at Falkener Elementary in Greensboro.

Guilford County Schools have 14 camps set up where they combine third graders from 68 schools. The schools are also offering a summer reading camp to second graders who are struggling with reading.

"We know from years of research that third grade is too late, that we really have to start helping kids who struggle with reading much, much earlier than third grade," said Oakley.