County school board agrees to sign Read to Achieve resolution

By Lauren Williams Staff Writer

January 29, 2014

On the heels of signing a school voucher litigation resolution earlier this week, the Sampson County Board of Education has added its name to another resolution, one started by Rowan-Salisbury Schools which expresses concern over the state’s Read to Achieve Act, particularly over the 36 reading selections that third grade students are required to master under the act as part of a reading portfolio.

The Sampson County Board of Education heard much about the state’s Read to Achieve Act during its work session in December, learning how the act will bring about changes in reading throughout Sampson’s elementary schools, changes that started this month. Those changes include offering additional opportunities for students to prove their reading proficiency through more tests, a reading portfolio, and a summer reading camp.

During the work session last month, Jeana Moore, elementary curriculum and instruction director, shared with school board members that the mandate, which was adopted in July 2012 as part of the Excellent Public Schools Act and took effect at the beginning of the current school year, features seven total components.

While all seven components were a part of the presentation, one of the components that was highlighted during the work session was the “elimination of social promotion.” Moore explained that this feature of the act “took away the power from principals for retention and promotion” of third graders only. Additionally, this component allows students to be promoted to the next grade level, she continued, through one of five “good cause exemptions” which include a student showing proficiency through a reading portfolio.

“This affects us the most,” Moore said at the time.

For students, successful completion of the new reading portfolio includes taking benchmarks and undergoing progress monitoring, going through learning interventions that their teacher feels is needed, and completing 36 reading passages.

Moore explained that the portfolio will offer students another path for promotion, allowing them to be promoted even if they fail the End-of-Grade (EOG) test.

“By law, we’re only required to give the passages to the at-risk (students),” she pointed out then, “but we want to give the opportunity to all third graders,” mentioning that the portfolio has the potential to provide valuable information about all third graders to their teachers.

In addition to the portfolio alternative, another opportunity that will be available for struggling students as part of the act’s calls for “successful reading development for retained students” is a six-week-long summer reading camp, funded in part by the state, that will require a minimum reading block of three hours.

“We’re required to set this up for them this summer,” noted Moore.

During the work session, school board member Faye Gay inquired as to how soon school officials would know about a summer camp in Sampson and asked where the rest of the funding for the camp would come from.

“I can guarantee you we’re going to have a summer camp,” replied Moore at the time, adding that school officials know very little about funding at the present time but that once they know how much money to expect from the state and how many students to expect in the camp they would have a better idea of how much additional funding would be needed for it.

Interim superintendent Mike Warren interjected that he had attended a superintendents’ meeting approximately 10 days before and described the gathering as “one of the most contentious” he had been a part of, recalling how state superintendent Dr. June Atkinson was near tears and how superintendents had expressed anger and concern about everything from where the portfolio’s reading passages came from to the funding for the summer reading camp.

“We’ll have to wait and see where funds come from to fill in the gaps,” he said, agreeing with Moore that right now school officials “have no idea” and predicting that “a good portion will be unfunded.”

This week during the school board’s regular meeting, no update was given on the summer reading camp and its funding. Instead, Warren and the school board focused on the 36 controversial reading selections included in the portfolio.

Warren shared that most school system’s across the state are concerned about the passages, describing them as “above a third grade reading level.”

Out of that concern came a resolution started by Rowan-Salisbury Schools, declaring “concern about the age appropriateness of Read to Achieve assessments and selections for portfolios” and stressing that the “current assessments and portfolios are harmful to students and counterproductive to the goal of proficiency in reading.”

The resolution ultimately request that “an immediate stay of these assessments for the current school year 2013-14.”

School boards across the state who share the same concern have been invited to sign the resolution. According to Warren, 59 out of 60 boards of education have already expressed that they are in favor of it.

Before the county school board members discussed whether or not to add their names to the resolution, Warren also gave an update from the state’s School Superintendents’ Association on the issue, sharing that a few superintendents met with Senator Philip Berger, one of the primary legislators who led in the Read to Achieve effort, last week to discuss their concerns. The results from the meeting seemed promising, added Warren, mentioning that, per emails he had received, Sen. Berger was to talk with the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) about the issue as well as possibly having some new legislation prepared come May when the General Assembly will begin its short session.

“I think we’re finally being heard,” said Warren after acknowledging that getting those in Raleigh to listen to concerns about this particular issue had been a problem. “I think they’ll have some relief for us in the next couple of weeks.”

Chairman Telfair Simpson asked for the rest of the school board members’ thoughts, noting that they could either wait and monitor the situation or go ahead and sign the resolution started by Rowan-Salisbury, confirming their concern about the reading passages as well.

School board member Mary Brown made a motion to act now by going ahead and adopting and signing the resolution. Vice chairwoman Faye Gay seconded the motion which passed with a unanimous vote.

Lauren Williams can be reached at 910-592-8137, ext. 117 or via email at