600 Forsyth Co. third graders fail reading test

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David Rolfe/Journal file photo

FORSYTH COUNTY, N.C. — More than 600 Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools third-graders failed to reach the reading proficiency needed to be promoted to the fourth grade, according to the Winston-Salem Journal. 

At the end of last school year, more than 700 of the district’s 4,000 third-graders failed to earn promotion to the fourth-grade on the state’s new Read to Achieve standards, which mandate students demonstrate reading proficiency before they can be promoted.

The students were encouraged to attend summer reading camp — a six-week program designed to give them intensive reading instruction and another chance to move on to the fourth-grade.

All they had to do was pass the Read to Achieve alternate assessment at the end of the six-week program.

Most did not.

Of the 727 students who qualified for summer school, 601 attended it.

Only 109 of those students passed the assessment and were promoted to the fourth-grade.

Superintendent Beverly Emory said she was surprised that more students did not pass the Read to Achieve assessment at the end of summer reading camp.

“In visiting the programs, the instruction seemed very differentiated, there was high energy and really good student-to-teacher ratios,” Emory said. “When I saw the numbers, I was surprised. It was not for lack of effort.”

Emory said now the district will begin to look at what can be done differently for next year, to improve both attendance and outcomes. The district will look at ways to identify students that will need summer school earlier in the school year, so families can do more advanced planning.

Emory said the district is also waiting on more detailed information on student performance from BELL, the organization the district contracted with to run the program. BELL gave students their own pre- and post-tests, which can show how much student performance improved over the six weeks.

“Just because (a student) didn’t make it to fourth grade doesn’t mean they didn’t grow,” she said.

The 492 students who attended the camp and did not pass and the 126 who did not attend it – representing about 15 percent of all third-graders last year – were either held back to repeat the third grade this year, or were put into a transitional program that blends third- and fourth-grade instruction.

All of those students are currently labeled as “retained” in state and local records. The students in the transitional program will have another chance – at the end of the first semester – to pass a reading assessment and have that label removed. Those students would become full-fledged fourth-graders and move on with the rest of their classmates.

“The bulk of these children you’ll find in transitional classroom because we want them to be successful and move on to fourth grade,” Emory said.

In total, 71 students were held back and will repeat the third grade.

Steve Oates, assistant superintendent for elementary schools, said that number is a little higher than in previous years, though it’s not clear yet if that’s related to the Read to Achieve program.

The remaining 547 students in transitional classes will receive 90 minutes of uninterrupted intensive reading instruction each day, plus an additional 60 minutes through the day in an effort to bring them up to a third-grade reading level while still receiving the rest of the fourth-grade curriculum.

“A student had to be non-proficient in more than just reading for us to hold them back,” Oates said.

The transitional students are spread throughout the district, although information on how many students are at each school was not available Tuesday.

Oates said there are some elementary schools without any transitional students. The transitional program looks a little different at each school that has one, he said. Schools with just a handful of those students may cluster them in one fourth-grade classroom and have them pulled out for their reading instruction. Some schools have spread them among several classrooms.

Oates said this model allows the children to keep up with the rest of their curriculum, so the students have the chance to move on to the fifth grade at the end of the year.

Oates said even students who do not pass the reading assessment at the end of the first semester could still move on to fifth grade with their classmates, though their third-grade retention will still be on their student record. The decision to promote those students to fifth grade will be up to school principals, he said.

“If a principal feels like (a student) is ready, they will put them in fifth grade,” he said.