June 26, 2014

CMS reading camp is ticket to fourth-grade promotion

About 1,900 Charlotte-Mecklenburg students who didn’t meet third-grade reading standards last year are required to report to summer reading camps that began this week.

About 1,900 Charlotte-Mecklenburg students who didn’t meet third-grade reading standards last year are required to report to summer reading camps that began this week.

That’s well below the estimates of 5,000 to 6,000 that came out early in the school year after state lawmakers passed the Read to Achieve act. Students must attend the summer program to be promoted.

Almost half of third-graders in CMS and statewide failed the 2013 reading exam, leading to dire forecasts that the mandatory summer camps would be swamped. But 83 percent of last year’s CMS third-graders cleared the bar (state figures won’t be released until September).

That’s not an educational miracle. The reading standard evolved during the school year to include a number of other paths to demonstrate grade-level reading skills. And the state Board of Education made it easier to pass the spring reading exam that offered a last shot at showing the skill needed for promotion.

Superintendent Heath Morrison says the multiple-option approach gives a better picture of reading skills, though he worries that North Carolina changes its testing standards so often that it’s tough to give a clear picture of progress.

“To use one test to assess whether a student is a proficient reader is not fair and accurate,” Morrison said. “Reading is complex. There’s a lot of different ways to assess reading.”

Despite early angst and confusion over Read to Achieve, Morrison said the state is helping CMS meet the goal of helping more children read well. The state provided $1.85 million for the rising fourth-graders who must go to camp for promotion, allowing CMS to offer them six weeks of summer sessions.

And CMS is using an additional $2.4 million in state money for at-risk students to provide three weeks of reading camp for almost 8,000 rising first- through third-graders who struggle with reading.

About 150 students from eight schools who failed to meet the third-grade standards were invited to report to Hidden Valley Elementary for the classes. As of Thursday, 38 hadn’t appeared, raising the risk that they could be held back.

Assistant Principal Scott Brynildsen said his staff began calling those families to remind them of the importance of sending their children. They reached about 10 and will keep trying the rest, he said.

Brynildsen and teacher Holly Bryant said those who came seem to be enjoying the classes.

Bryant, who teaches kindergarten at Highland Creek Elementary during the year, said her class is reading “Miss Nelson Is Missing!” and Judy Blume’s “The Pain and the Great One,” and will do a short author study on Blume. Bryant said the classes are similar to “literacy block” during the school year, with chances for students to work one-on-one with the teacher.

“My group, they tell me they like reading. They just want to get better,” she said.

Meanwhile, other groups such as Freedom School Partners, Y Readers and Building Educated Leaders for Life are providing academic summer camps for hundreds more students at no charge to families.

Morrison said such programs, whether hosted by CMS or nonprofit groups, reduce the chance that minds will be idle and skills will slip for the children who are least likely to have books at home or attend summer camps that cost hundreds of dollars.

Still to be seen is how many children have to be held back because of Read to Achieve. If their families can’t or won’t send them to the summer reading school, the law requires that they be assigned to third grade in the fall, though that could involve a mixed third- and fourth-grade classroom.

Also yet to come are the results of 2014 reading exams and other state tests.

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