New requirements for evaluating and promoting students in kindergarten, first grade and second grade should make the process easier and simpler for parents and teachers, officials said Wednesday.
Approved during the Limestone County Board of Education's June 25 meeting, the new requirements are part of several changes made to the student handbook for the 2019-2020 school year. Children aiming to advance from kindergarten to first grade were previously asked to demonstrate at least partial mastery of eight grading standards.
For first graders hoping to advance to second grade or second graders eyeing a third-grade classroom, there were only five grading standards. Now, there are two categories — English Language Arts and math — and students in each of the grades must show full mastery of at least three of the four grading standards in each category to be promoted to the next grade.
"You may have students who are doing fine in math and hitting those benchmarks but struggling in reading," said Brad Lewis, executive director of curriculum and instruction for Limestone County Schools. "These are the foundational skills that students have to know."
Lewis said the new standards are a way to provide more specific information for teachers to make it easier to identify where a student might be struggling. It also serves as a way to help parents, so they know exactly what their child needs help with, he said.
"We want to identify learning gaps for younger students, and go ahead and address those, so when a child moves from kindergarten to first grade, they're not going to struggle or it won't be as tough a transition," Lewis said. "(We want) to do that for every grade."
Julia Wall, LCS elementary curriculum coordinator and director of prekindergarten, said she worked with a team of nearly 20 people to come up with the new standards. The team included one K-2 teacher from each of the elementary schools in the area and several reading specialists.
"We felt like the requirements before were a little bit too loose, and we knew the guidelines were going to be coming into play with the new literacy act," Wall said.
The Alabama Literacy Act was signed into law by Gov. Kay Ivey on June 10. The law requires third graders to read on or above their grade level before moving to the fourth grade. It goes into effect at the beginning of the 2021–2022 school year.
Wall said thanks to the work already being done in the district, reading plans in Limestone County schools won't have to change much.
"We put these things in place ot be proactive instead of reactive," Wall said. "We're going to have to tweak a few things and do some individual plans, but we're already screening students at the beginning of the year and meeting with parents to best meet the needs of their kids."
Lewis said the district will continue to make adjustments as it goes along, because research has shown how critical the first few grades of school and how detrimental retention, or holding a child to repeat a grade, can be.
"Retention is something we want to avoid," Lewis said. "A student may not be ready academically, but research shows retaining really hurts them socially and emotionally."
A student has to show full mastery of 75% of the standards in each category in the student handbook to advance to the next grade. For kindergartners, this means three of the following four ELA standards must be mastered: naming upper and lowercase letters, produce letter sounds, use phonics to decode words and read high frequency or sight words.
They must also be able to prove mastery of three of the following four math standards: writing numbers 0–20, count and show numbers with at least 20 objects, fluently add and subtract within 5 and solve addition and subtraction word problems within 10 using objects, fingers or drawings.
First graders must also be able to use grade-level phonics to decode words, read at a first-grade level, apply strategies to comprehend grade-level text and/or read high frequency words. Math gets bumped up a grade level, too, as they are now expected to add and subtract within 10, use objects or drawings to add and subtract within 20, represent two-digit numbers using 10s and ones up to 100 and/or count, write and represent numbers up to 120.
Second graders must perform all first-grade ELA standards at second-grade level. They can use paper or similar aid to add or subtract within 100, but they must be able to work out addition and subtraction problems within 20 in their heads. They must be able to recognize three-digit numbers up to 1,000 and add or subtract 10 or 100 to any given number between 0 and 1,000 without having to draw it out or count by ones.
Wall said the standards are based on the Alabama Common Core Standards. Lewis said the changes, like any changes made before, will be evaluated in the spring to ensure they are working efficiently and effectively.
Other changes to the student handbook for the 2019–2020 school year include the following:
• A new vision statement that reads, "In partnership with families and the community, we will create a world-class school district focused on empowering ALL students for life and work in the 21st Century";
• A new mission statement that reads, "High expectations and high achievement for ALL";
• Students who accumulate 18 or more absences in a year will not be allowed to participate in non-academic school activities, such as prom, in-school games, dances and field days. Exceptions may be made for chronic illness or extended hospital stays;
• Students who accumulate five or more absences per semester will no be allowed to participate in field trips. Exceptions may be made for chronic illness or extended hospital stays;
• Half-day dismissal times are listed as 11:10 a.m. for elementary students and 11:30 a.m. for high school students;
• New section regarding the prekindergarten admission process;
• New section regarding requirements and requests for E-Learning Days;
• Maximum final grade for a credit recovery course is now 60 out of 100, down from 70;
• New guidelines regarding medications and body fluid procedures;
• In the case of an emergency at Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant, faculty and staff at Blue Springs Elementary, Clements High and Tanner High will be transported with students to Ardmore High;
• In the case of an emergency at Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant, Sugar Creek Elementary students who live in the Elk Estates, Lakeside Estates, Lentzville or Temperance Oak communities will remain at the school until parents can pick them up;
• In the case of an emergency at Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant, West Limestone High students who live in the O'Neal community will remain at the school until parents can pick them up;
• Students who receive out-of-school suspension once or in-school suspension more than three times will not be allowed to participate in class or school field trips during that semester;
• Guidelines regarding the Jamari Terrell Williams Student Bullying Prevention Act Policy, including relevant definitions, description of expected student behavior, consequences for violations, process for reporting and investigation, complaint resolution and information related to suicide prevention; and
• Changes to student dress code, related to the wearing of leggings, jeggings and yoga pants at school.