In 2017-18 only 55.9 percent of 3rd grade students in North Carolina public schools were reading at Level 3, known as Grade Level Proficient.
North Carolina students clearly need to read better. And that was the consensus of legislators and educators who came together yesterday with Sen. Phil Berger for an afternoon press conference at the General Assembly to introduce The Excellent Public Schools Act of 2019.
The legislation is intended to remedy the checkered results of Read-to-Achieve program. The program, passed in 2012, was focused on ensuring all children were reading at or above grade level by the end of third grade. An October 2018 evaluation by researchers at North Carolina State University found the program appeared to have no effect on reading scores for the first two cohorts of students exposed to the program.
The sobering assessment motivated a group of lawmakers and educators to revamp the program and fix its shortcomings. What needs to be fixed? The legislation provides for:
- K3 teachers will develop individual reading plans for students who are not reading at grade level.
- Require DPI to develop a Digital Children’s Reading Initiative so parents can find resources online to help their children.
- Identify what is working in districts and share with parents.
- Improve training standards for teachers of childhood literacy.
- Require schools to get permission from DPI for summer reading plans.
To improve teacher quality in the Read-to-Achieve program, the legislation also provides for all retired educators who agree to teach in a summer reading camp to receive $2,000 and receive CEU credits toward their teacher license.
Senator Berger said no additional funding was associated with the bill. He thought enough money had already been provided. However, he did say, if lawmakers thought additional funds were needed, they would be added during the budget process.
Read-to-Achieve is an ambitious program. Launched with fanfare and bipartisan support, the results have been disappointing. Why? There are many reasons to choose from. Some teachers and administrators didn’t like how the program was conceived or implemented. Some believe the program lacks adequate resources. Others thought, no matter how the program was funded, certain groups were not going to let the program succeed because of their dislike for Republican policy and leadership. It’s all speculation on what happened – or didn’t happen.
I applaud the efforts of lawmakers and educators to improve the program. You can’t overestimate the importance of reading to a child and to the learning process. It’s the key to nearly everything. I’m disappointed in the results for Read to Achieve. How do you solve the problem? The new legislation may help. What would help even more would be parents deciding to read with their children daily. That’s the best solution. The simple act of hearing words, sentences and learning new vocabulary is one of the best things a parent can do to help their child read. And it doesn’t cost anything – but time. Yes, I know there are times when you’d rather be doing something else than reading Green Eggs and Ham for the umpteenth time, but it’s worth the investment. Believe it or not, the day will come when you wish you could read to young children.
We should make the necessary tweaks to ensure Read-to-Achieve works. However, if parents realized what they say and do has the biggest impact on how students learn and succeed, such programs would hardly be necessary.
It can happen; one family at a time.