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CMS Expects 5,000 3rd-Graders In Summer Reading Camps; Seeks Flexibility

Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools expects to have 5,000 third-graders qualify for reading camps this summer as a result of the state's new third grade reading requirement. District officials worry state money won't come close to covering the cost of these camps.  They’re asking the state for flexibility on the camps, as well as all the tests that come with the new third grade reading law. 

The new Read to Achieve legislation requires all third graders whose reading skills aren’t up to snuff by the end of the year to attend a summer reading camp.  That camp has to be three hours a day and run for six weeks. 

“Our parents would rather have a full day of schooling for students in the summer, than to have to get off work in the middle of the morning and go pick up their child and, then, go back to work.  And, then, what do we do for daycare in the afternoon?” said CMS Chief Learning Services Officer Valerie Truesdale at last night’s school board meeting.   

So CMS is asking the state for permission to condense the time into three weeks.  That would also save the district about $250,000 in transportation costs.  That’s a big deal since CMS figures the $1.9 million the state plans to give the district to run the camps will only cover about half of their cost. 

“If we have almost 12,000 students in grade three and over 50 percent of them struggled with the beginning-of-grade test, you can be sure we’ll be short in the funding for our summer reading camp,” said Truesdale.

The district’s other big concern is the amount of reading tests the new law calls for.  Students can get out of the summer camps by passing the end-of-grade test or by completing what’s called a reading portfolio.  That’s basically a series of tests administered between January and May.  There are a lot of them.

“That might impact over 30 percent of the time that our students will be experiencing third grade will be in some sort of assessment rather than in instruction.  We have huge concerns about that,” said CMS Superintendent Heath Morrison. 

Still the district, wants all third graders to complete the portfolio to make sure they have every shot of going on to fourth grade without what’s called a “retention label.”  CMS is asking the state to allow it to get rid of several of these tests. 

“This looks like third grade hell to me and I hate to use that term, but it is,” said Rhonda Lennon, a CMS school board member who represents northern Mecklenburg County. 

“I’m opposed to the heavy-handed mandates being forced down on CMS and the other LEAs by our state legislators that have good intentions, but absolutely are off-base about how this is being implemented at the schoolhouse level,” said Lennon.

She says the mandates are particularly galling considering charter schools have a lot more flexibility when it comes to the law.  They don’t have to run summer reading camps.  Instead, they can choose to give kids 90 minutes of uninterrupted reading instruction every day in fourth grade until they read at grade-level or offer accelerated reading classes during the year.  CMS has requested that same flexibility.    

“This broad approach provides for an opportunity for a school to tailor its intervention to the needs of its students.  And we believe this particular flexibility clause needs to be extended to all public schools, not just to charter public schools in our state,” said Truesdale.    

Parents should know shortly before school ends whether their children will have to attend the camps. 

Lisa Worf traded the Midwest for Charlotte in 2006 to take a job at WFAE. She worked with public TV in Detroit and taught English in Austria before making her way to radio. Lisa graduated from University of Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in English.