NC's new reading law needs a fix

February 2, 2014 

State Sen. Phil Berger, the chamber’s president pro tem and one of the state’s most powerful politicians, made great show of backing a law to require most third-graders to demonstrate proficiency at reading at grade level before they can go to fourth grade.

If they can’t, they would have to go to reading camps, take more tests and face retention.

The bill, called Read to Achieve, sounded good as a way to reduce social promotion. But it lacked detail, and it added a tremendous testing burden for teachers and school systems. Naturally, it appears there was no consideration of the amount of time it would take, nor was there any additional funding provided to help teachers with the tests.

Republicans such as Berger, after all, have been in the business of cutting funding to public education and bashing teachers and administrators in the process.

So now the State Board of Education will attempt to clean up the mess by coming up with alternatives to the time-consuming 36 short tests the students are facing to make reading improvement more practicable for students and teachers. That’s appropriate.

For his part, Berger says the State Department of Public Instruction, which just happens to be run by an elected Democrat, Dr. June Atkinson, botched the program. She says the legislature should fine-tune the rules, which apparently are confusing local administrators and don’t seem well thought-out.

Berger has blasted public school teachers in the past, a result of the fact that some of them, and an association that represents many teachers, have criticized Republicans’ shameful treatment of public education. So Berger championing of this kind of measure is a little suspect from the beginning.

If he really wants to help, he’ll seek more input from the teachers in the classroom and take the idea back to the drawing board.

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