6/29/13 Summer reading camps meant to put students back on track
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Photos by Sam Roberts / Times-News
Above, Melissa Border helps third-grade students with reading Wednesday during the Read to Achieve summer camp at Garrett Elementary in Mebane. Below, students who did not pass their third grade reading exams had to participate in the Read to Achieve summer camp. Border’s students work on learning new words during the camp.
Summer reading camps meant to put students back on track
By Isaac Groves The Times-News 6/29/14
Reprinted with permission.
MEBANE — A handful of hopeful rising fourth-graders work with teacher Melissa Border around a table at Garrett Elementary School talking about the story they just read.
“How does the farmer feel at the beginning of the story?” Border asks.
A girl says he is not happy. Border asks whether the famer is a “he.” “No, she!” the girl says.
It is halfway through the three-week summer reading camp that about 330 Alamance-Burlington School System students are in at four schools. Because of Read to Achieve, students across the state are doing the same.
It will cost ABSS more than $200,000.
Around the room, three other students are using computers with software to make a game out of reading comprehension. A few others are adding word cards to lists of words ending with the same letters.
The mood is pretty good for summer school.
The General Assembly adopted the Excellent Public Schools Act in 2012, ending social promotions this year for third-graders. Students have to pass their End of Grade reading tests or one of several alternative and second-chance tests.
“We all realized we were promoting third-graders who are not reading on grade level to fourth grade,” said Sen. Rick Gunn, R-Alamance, a co-sponsor of the legislation, “and that was setting them up for failure.”
There is a lot of research in education showing third grade is a key year. Until third grade, students are learning to read, as is often said, and after that, they are reading to learn. Those who are not caught up by third grade, studies show, fall behind and have a hard time catching up.
Getting them caught up is also time-consuming and expensive for schools.
The End of Grade tests are based on the Common Core State Standards, which means the tests got harder when the standards came online last year, and the schools had to get third-graders to pass this year — or else.
Estimates from the school system before the EOGs said a third of the district’s 1,664 third-graders could be in reading camps this summer.
“At the very beginning, we were worrying it would be a huge number, and we would have to have a camp in every school, and that’s a huge expense.” said Jean Maness, executive director of elementary leadership at ABSS.
Since the beginning of the year, there was a scramble for districts to figure out how to handle this as the state Department of Public Instruction sent out instructions bit by bit.
“From the time the bill was passed, there was 18 months for DPI to roll out the guidelines,” Gunn said, “and frankly, it was not rolled out effectively.”
ULITMATELY, ABOUT 400 local students tested at third-grade reading levels at the beginning of the year, according to ABSS. Close to 100 had “good-cause” exemptions, such as learning disabilities, limited English or having been held back more than once before. Seven hundred passed their EOGs or alternative tests.
That left about 430 students to invite to the summer reading camps. About 100 opted out.
“This has been manageable,” Maness said.
The state is paying about $290 per student in the camps, but the district estimates its share of salaries, supplies and busing comes to about $225,000 — not including the cost of utilities at four schools.
“What was required from the state level was fully funded,” Gunn said.
LAST-MINUTE CHANGES from the Legislature took some of the high stakes out of Read to Achieve. Students also will not automatically be held back if they do not pass their third Read to Achieve test July 3, Maness said.
They will be in “transition” classrooms geared toward getting them up to fourth-grade reading level by November. Unless students are behind grade level in other subjects as well, they will not necessarily have a failed grade on their records.
Maness said the hard part was juggling plans while waiting to find out what the Legislature would do during the short session. The district knew whether the camps would be three or six weeks and how many students would be in them the Wednesday before the camps started.
“We did two things that are very, very important,” Gunn said, “we shortened that period to three weeks, and gave the (districts) the flexibility to work with that time period. They reached out to us to make it better, and we heard them.”
That flexibility might not last forever. Gunn said he would like to see consistency among districts.
WHETHER THIS IS helping students is, of course, the most important thing going forward.
“I think the exposure to reading is going to be what brings long-term improvements,” Maness said. “Is three weeks going to make the big difference? No, but three weeks will help them keep gains over the summer.”
Many of those studies about learning to read say the key is to start reading early in school, get parents reading to their children and encourage children to read.
Maness said the push at the third grade will put more focus on teaching reading starting from kindergarten or before, because what students need to read to learn just gets harder as they get older.
“So we’ve got to make sure we’re doing our job in elementary,” Maness said. “It’s a lot easier to teach them to read from the beginning than to catch them in eighth grade.”