Last updated: August 24. 2014 3:39PM - 439 Views
By Ted Stanton

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Of Durant School District’s 266 third-graders, 25 failed the recent statewide end-of-semester reading test. Under a new law, they faced the possibility of not being promoted.

However, 13 were given a probationary promotion, and the other 12, who were exempt from retention because of learning disabilities or limited experience with the English language, also moved on to the fourth grade.

All 25 will receive intensive reading instruction and be monitored throughout a school year filled with uncertainty, much stemming from the Common Core repeal. The new law requires that students not reading at grade level be held back at the end of their third-grade year.

The Durant district, this summer and last summer, conducted a reading academy with great emphasis on reading skills for students identified to have reading problems.

Durant school superintendent Duane Merideth and elementary schools curriculum director Beth Means in an interview this week discussed the test results, the promotion decisions and the impact of the recent repeal of Oklahoma’s Common Core curiculum.

Means noted that the preceding numbers reflected only students who attended Durant ISD for a full academic year. The probationary promotions, she added, were based on a unanimous decision by a team of the parents, teachers, administration and reading specialists in a case-by-case process.

DISD started implementing Common Core two years ago in Grades 1-3. By this fall, Merideth said, the CC would have been in effect from kindergarten through high school. Instead, the law to make CC implementation mandatory was repealed by the Oklahoma Legislature last spring under heavy fire from critics. The repeal law requires all districts to return to the Priority Academic Student Skills standards in effect in 2010.

Means said many teachers and administrators have kept much of their PASS material and will be able to include them in this year’s course work.

Asked about the burden on teachers having to deal with the switch back to PASS, Merideth acknowledged that the repeal has brought uncertainty into the system, but added, “Our teachers are great and will do whatever they think necessary to ensure that students get good training.”

Means said, “Teachers know what’s best for their students, but the state must tell us, through a new set of standards, what outcomes they want.”

The new standards must, by law, be completed by fall 2016, and the state education department has begun the long process of developing them by the deadline.

Merideth said the two-year switch back won’t add greatly to district costs. The district had held off buying new texts and will be able to continue with materials on hand and the wide variety of sources available through the Internet.

Five extra professional-development sessions had been conducted for teachers as Common Core was being implemented but now will not be added until the new standards are created.

The superintendent noted that much of the Common Core training has carry-over value for whatever curriculum is eventually put in place, so that money “wasn’t wasted.”

The repeal law specifically calls for standards not linked to the Common Core. Still, Merideth said some of Common Core’s practices will be maintained, particularly the emphasis on writing across the curriculum and the need for instruction in critical thinking and creative problem solving. Writing “across the curriculum” refers to inclusion of writing requirements in many courses besides language arts.

The state education department has helped some in planning for the current school year, Means said, “but we have no test vendors yet. We have no direction from the state department, and teachers need to know what’s coming so they can help students prepare.”

The state did not renew contracts of tests vendors in the wake of several computer and other problems that snarled the testing process in the past year.

The district hired 22 new teachers for this fall, most with several years’ experience. Recruiting and retaining teachers throughout the state is difficult, Merideth pointed out, because Oklahoma teacher salaries are 49th-lowest among the states.

Asked about a report that suggested requiring Saturday classes and longer school days, he said that was unlikely in Durant. He also noted that the student population in Durant, which has been growing by 30-50 students per year in past years, rose 158 this year from last — “a pretty good jump.”

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