Monthly Archives: June 2013
It used to be fairly simple to talk with parents about how promotion and retention decisions were made in North Carolina. Except for high school students, whose grade classification is based on the number and type of course credits earned, our Public School Law (G.S. 115C) gave school principals sole authority over how students were “classified” or assigned to a grade. Principals were expected to make this decision thoughtfully, considering factors like classroom work, standardized test scores, teacher recommendations and other relevant information. If parents were worried that their child might be retained, they were often advised to meet with the principal and share their concerns with the hope of influencing that decision. This is still good information, unless your child is in third grade.
Recent changes in North Carolina’s Public School Law (2012-142, s. 7A.1) offer some good, bad and not-so-bad news. Let’s discuss them in that order.
Good News: The North Carolina Read to Achieve Program is intended to put intense focus on effective reading instruction in the early grades (K-3) as a means of increasing academic achievement long term. It has a goal of ensuring that “every child is reads at or above grade level by the end of 3rd grade and continue to progress in reading proficiency so that she or he can read, comprehend, integrate and apply complex text needed for secondary education and career success.”
The positive purposes of this legislation are that (1) difficulty with reading development is identified as early as possible; (2) students receive appropriate instructional and support services to address difficulty with reading development and to remediate reading deficiencies; and (3) each student and his or her parent or guardian be continuously informed of the student’s academic needs and progress. So far, so good.
Bad News: In addition to the purposes listed above, the purpose of this law is to determine that progression from one grade to another be based, in part, upon proficiency in reading. More specifically, the State Board of Education must now require that a student be retained in third grade if they fail to demonstrate third grade level reading comprehension skills on a State-approved standardized test. Even though this law allows for certain specific “good cause exemptions” from mandatory retention, the Superintendent will now make the final promotion/retention decision. The Principal can only make a written recommendation to the Superintendent if they determine that a student qualifies for a good cause exemption and should be promoted.
Not-so-bad News: Students who are retained under this law will be given the option of attending a 6-8 week “summer reading camp.” At the end of the camp the students will be tested again and will be promoted to 4th grade if they demonstrate grade-level skills, either on that test or through a reading portfolio. If they do not improve their reading skills to that level, they will repeat 3rd grade with a possibility of being promoted mid-year if the are able to reach grade level by November 1st. Retained students will be provided with intensive reading instruction. Those students who are given a good cause exemption will also receive instructional supports and reading interventions appropriate for their age and reading level.
Students with disabilities can be considered for a good cause exemption if they have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) that calls for reading interventions and the use of alternative assessments when they participate in the state testing program. If your child is below grade level with her reading skills, make sure that there is a reading goal on her IEP. Whether or not she has an IEP, you should monitor your child’s reading progress closely and ask questions if you feel that her skills are developing too slowly. Maybe something different needs to happen. Some children have disabilities, such as an intellectual disability, that make it unrealistic to expect grade level academic skills. However, it is extremely important that every child be provided the appropriate type and amount of instruction that will allow them to reach their fullest potential. North Carolina’s public school laws no longer mention “full potential” but, like most parents, that will always be my goal for each child.
Many parents worry that the summer break from school will mean weeks of lost opportunities to learn. Worst yet, they fear that their child may actually lose skills that they have worked so hard to develop. Some parents will enroll their child in some sort of academic program, which may or may not be disguised as a “camp.” Other parents would like to do this , but lack the financial resources to make it happen. The quick tip for this last group of parents is to ask about financial assistance or scholarships that might make a big difference.
For folks who have limited funds, it is important to tap into other resources that may be available. One of the important lessons that my own mother taught me is to not let pride stand in the way of giving your child a valuable experience. When she worked as a housekeeper in the local YWCA, she somehow made it possible for me to take free classes on Saturdays. It was at the Y that I learned how to sew, cook, dance, swim and speak French. She then talked my school into allowing me, as a 4th grader, to sit in with the 6th grade class when they had their French lessons. My brothers and I also had the opportunity to attend day and overnight camps at no cost other than our clothing and required gear. This contrast to our typical inner-city routine expanded our minds in ways that cannot be measured.
As a financially-challenged mom, I have applied that advocacy lesson to the benefit of my own children. I ask about and stay on the lookout for programs and activities in my community. My children have had the opportunity to participate in some expensive specialty programs at a fraction of the cost. There are also low-cost day camps offered by schools, park and recreation departments, churches and other non-profit groups. The Cooperative Extension Service offers 4-H programs year-round where children and youth “Learn by Doing.” During summer there are 4-H traditional and specialty camps. The Boy and Girl Scouts of America also offer summer camping opportunities, which may even be open to non-scouts if space is available. Camps give children the chance to learn about science, nature, crafts, music, sports, etc. and develop in many areas including communication and social skills.
Some private schools that have summer programs for academic enrichment or remediation have scholarships available for those who cannot afford to pay all or any of the cost, but they may not advertise them. Your school guidance counselor or social worker may be aware of these opportunities, as well as other programs that may be targeted toward economically-disadvantaged or at-risk students, or groups that are under-represented in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. Some of those programs are offered on college and university campuses, making the dream of going to college seem more possible for the children who participate.
Educational websites and software (that can often be borrowed from your public library) offer “games” that can reinforce or develop skills while your child is having fun. Even old-school activity books can sharpen a variety of skills in response to a complaint that “I’m bored!” A walk in a park or a drive in the country can lead to interesting discoveries or raise questions that you can research together (e.g. let’s find out about that bug/rock/plant/historical marker, etc.). Some businesses or factories offer tours, or at least may be willing to allow an employee to take the time to explain what kind of work they do. Local museums and zoos often have discount days and many movie theaters offer special shows for kids at low-cost and may even come complete with popcorn!
The most important thing is to not forget that learning can happen everywhere and everyday, sometimes without your child realizing it. In fact, it’s probably better that way.