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The Hoke County Way: Developing readers, not test takers

“We are developing test-takers at the expense of readers.” — Kelly Gallagher, Readicide

Not so at Don D. Steed Elementary School in Hoke County. The importance of testing is not lost on the students, the teachers, the principals, the parents, or the administrators of this district, but the focus is squarely on student growth.

This class is preparing for a pep rally for the End-of-Grade tests students are preparing in earnest to take. Make sure to listen to the song, which they rock. They plan to rock the tests too.


The principal, Kim Gray, says, “We have found that vocabulary is where we struggle.” So the focus is on literacy, but in ways you might not expect.

Words that students struggle with are posted in the hallways of the school
Words that students struggle with are posted in the hallways of the school


Spanish immersion

The day I visited this Spanish immersion classroom, there were four adults and 18 students. Sandra Aguilera is a VIF (Visiting International Faculty) teacher from Honduras, Brandi Calloway is the kindergarten teacher, Angela Maynor is a teaching assistant, and Patti Hoskins is an ESL tutor. Aguilera and Calloway co-teach this class — one day is in Spanish, the next day is in English. There are nine English-language learners and nine English-speaking learners.

With almost 18 percent of the student population Hispanic, this class is in high demand.

College and career fair…in elementary school!

The school is holding a college and career fair for its fifth graders the night I visit. This is a big deal, and the students are dressed to impress. They have conducted research. They have written a report. They are prepared to present their projects on the college and career of their choice to parents, teachers, and the community.


Luke Jones plans to attend The United States Military Academy West Point. He wants to be an electrical engineer and work in robotics.

 “I have a proud military family.”




Anglina Musson plans to attend the University of California at Santa Cruz. She wants to be a marine biologist. She is well on her way, placing first in a slew of science fairs during elementary school. 

Santa Cruz



James Nied plans to attend UNC-Chapel Hill. “I want to be a doctor,” he says.  His inspiration? His younger sister had reconstructive surgery for a cleft palate at the hospital in Chapel Hill. His mom told him UNC is a great school.  

“I want to work with children”




The college quilt

Each class puts together a college quilt. The idea is not just to instill the dream of college and career in these students, but to help them understand that these dreams define the future of this community. They are part of each others hopes and dreams. 

The pervasive belief in this district is that every kid is an honor student.

“It takes all of us working together…

to integrate literacy into every aspect of learning…

it takes leveraging community relationships…

connecting everything to a long-term vision of college and career.”

— Excerpts from interviews

The Hoke County Series

Monday: No excuses

Tuesday: Problem solved

Wednesday: “Why not us, why not now”

Thursday: Developing readers, not test takers

Friday: Fostering academic potential, skills, and behaviors now and in the future

Mebane Rash

Mebane Rash is the CEO and editor-in-chief of EducationNC.