School district planning summer reading camps

Feb. 04, 2014 @ 10:16 AM

Durham school officials expect as much as 75 percent of third-graders to attend a summer reading camp to comply with a new state mandate requiring reading proficiency before promotion.

Officials said the number of students required to attend the camps could be much lower, but that a beginning-of-grade reading assessment for third-graders showed only 25 percent “on track” to pass the end-of-grade reading test.

The 75 percent of students deemed “not on track” to pass the state’s end-of-grade reading test is equivalent to 1,878 of the district’s 2,504 third graders. Six-hundred and twenty-five of DPS third-graders are considered “on track” to pass the test.

Called “Read to Achieve,” the Republican-backed mandate pushed by Senate leader Phil Berger requires all third-graders to pass the state end-of-grade reading exam before moving on to the fourth-grade.

The law provides five “good cause” exemptions from mandatory retention for students with fewer than two years instruction in an English as a Second Language program, students with disabilities, students who show proficiency on an alternative assessment, students who demonstrate proficiency through a reading portfolio and students who have received reading intervention and previously retained.

Stacey Wilson-Norman, deputy superintendent of academics for Durham Public Schools, noted during a meeting with the school board Monday that the beginning-of-grade assessment taken in August was based on third-grade material the students had not yet covered.  

“Students took a third-grade EOG, just a different version,” Wilson-Norman said. “So, these are third-grade students in August who had not been exposed to the third-grade curriculum.”

Still, Wilson-Norman said the district is planning for the worst case scenario.

Only 34.6 percent of Durham’s third-graders passed the state reading exam last school year, which was lower than the state-wide passing rate of 45.2 percent.

Under the plan, the school districts would hold reading camps at 10 schools, with nine of them serving multiple elementary schools. 

E.K. Powe, for example, would host a camp for Hillandale, George Watts and Club Boulevard students and Sandy Ridge would serve Mangum, Little River and Eno Valley.

Pearsontown Elementary School would only serve students from its school.

“Pearsontown would need its own site purely because of its location on the southern side of town,” Wilson-Norman said.

The new rule has raised ire in school districts across the state with local officials worried about the cost of running summer camps, loss of instructional time, excessive testing of students and the readability of passages in portfolio assessments.

The school board will consider a resolution state its concern about the requirement.

“I think we’re living in crazy times here in North Carolina,” said DPS Board of Education member Natalie Beyer.

In Durham, school officials are projecting that is will cost $1.46 million to run six weeks of summer camps that would begin the week of June 23-26 and end July 28-31.

For students on year-round calendars, the camps would take place during intercessions, beginning April 1-4 and ending July 7-10.

“You can see here, that this is a pretty full summer for those kids who have to participate,” Wilson-Norman said.

She said arranging camps for students attending a year-round school is particularly tough because those students will not have taken their EOGs by the time camps begin in April and district  will not know which students passed or failed.

She also said it’s impossible to hold six weeks of camps on a year-round schedule.

“When we started looking at the year-round proposal dates, the only way we could get six weeks was to begin in April,” Wilson-Norman said.

The school district, like others with year-round school, has asked to hold three weeks of reading camps for year-round students and extend the day beyond the three hours per day that’s mandated in the law. The district has not yet heard from state education officials about whether the request has been approved.