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Rules for new state reading test puzzle some parents

Posted March 15, 2014
Updated March 16, 2014

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— The third-graders in Jeff Maynard's class at Brier Creek Elementary School in Raleigh hang words on walls and use technology to refine their reading skills.

Those skills soon could be put to the test in a new way.

North Carolina public schools, including Brier Creek elementary, are gearing up for the Read to Achieve test in May. The test is part of new education standards set by the Read to Achieve law, which the General Assembly passed in 2012.

The goal of the law is for every third-grade student to read at or above grade level by the end of their school year. Children who fail to meet the standard could be held back or be required to attend a free, district-sponsored reading camp.

The test is intended to help students meet that reading standard. The five testing options include a beginning-of-grade reading test, an end-of-grade reading test, an alternative reading test, a portfolio of reading passages completed by the student or another alternative approved by the state.

Supporters say the test is well-intended, but comes with a lot of confusion.

Brier Creek principal Sandy Chambers says even if some students at the school do not pass the Read to Achieve test, they may not have to be held back. There are also seven “good cause exemptions” that would prevent a student from having to repeat the third grade.

Maynard’s class has been completing portfolio passages for months now. If those scores are high, it could demonstrate the students’ learning levels even if some do not pass the Read to Achieve test.

“Testing is new to them,” Maynard said. “For a while, we were doing a lot of tests, and it was taking a lot of time. They've adjusted, and the way things are done now has changed a bit, so its come off as a positive thing in a lot of ways."

Susan Haller is the parent of two children at Brier Creek elementary. She says the assessments are important, but preparation is key.

“I do think that with the implementation of it this year, it was sort of dumped on the third-grade families a little bit early, and it was something they weren't quite prepared for or knew enough about when it was put into place,” Haller said.

State Superintendent June Atkinson says there's a lot of conflicting information out there for parents, and she hopes the process will become easier.

“Some of the problems that have been identified this year will be minimized next year, and we ask our parents to work with our teachers, to work with their children because our goal is that all children can read well,” Atkinson said.

Parents can do one simple thing to prepare their children, experts say.

The U.S. Department of Education recommends parents read daily with their child. Parents are also encouraged to choose different children’s books and introduce children to new words.

“You read more to achieve more,” Atkinson said.

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