Politics & Government

‘If some things need fixing, let’s fix them.’ NC leaders want to improve Read To Achieve.

North Carolina leaders are making a new push to help young children to read, announcing changes Monday to the Read to Achieve program which has so far failed its goal of getting more children to read by third grade.

Since 2012, the state has provided at least $150 million to the Read to Achieve program to try to get more students proficient in reading by the end of third grade. With test scores not having increased, Senate leader Phil Berger filed a new bill Monday that would make changes in how reading is taught and how teachers are trained in teaching literacy to their students.

“If some things need fixing, then let’s fix them,” Berger, a Rockingham County Republican, said at a news conference Monday. “If things are working well, then let’s replicate them.”

Under Senate Bill 438, called the Excellent Public Schools Act of 2019, changes include:

K-3 teachers developing individual reading plans for students who are not reading at grade level;

The state Department of Public Instruction developing a Digital Children’s Reading Initiative so parents can find resources online to help their children read;

DPI developing a model curriculum, based on what some districts say is working, that can be used statewide;

Revising training standards for teachers to promote early childhood literacy;

Requiring school districts to get approval from DPI for their summer reading camp plans.

The bill also tries to improve the quality of the teachers who work at the camps by offering $2,000 to retired educators who come back to work for the summer. Teachers who’ve gotten reading bonuses based on their students’ scores would get extra credits toward keeping their teaching license if they work in the camps.

“There’s a lot to this bill,” Berger said. “But the overarching theme is this: Read To Achieve is working well in some places and needs adjustments in others.”

Berger said the legislation doesn’t include any new money for Read To Achieve, because he believes there is enough funding now to cover the changes to the program. But he said lawmakers would consider more money if it’s determined to be needed.

The General Assembly passed Read to Achieve legislation in 2012. It was modeled on literacy efforts in other states, including the “Just Read, Florida!” program created by former Gov. Jeb Bush in 2001. The goal in North Carolina was to end “social promotion” by keeping students in third grade until they could read at grade level and providing extra support to help them get there, as The News & Observer previously reported.

The state has spent $151.7 million on Read To Achieve, much of it for digital devices for elementary schools and summer camps to help young readers who fall behind, as the N&O previously reported.

The passing rate on the state’s third-grade reading exams is now at 55.9 percent. It was at 60.2 percent in the 2013-14 school year.

Researchers at N.C. State University’s Friday Institute found no gains from implementing Read To Achieve.

“Reading performance is not nearly where we want it to be yet in North Carolina,” State Board of Education member J.B. Buxton said.

Berger said the state is committed to getting more children reading at a young age.

“We are going to continue whatever we can to try to move the needle as far as the 3rd-grade reading scores,” Berger said. “That data point is that important as far as outcomes for kids long term.”

Berger made his announcement in front of a bipartisan group of leaders, including Buxton, a Democrat, and Republican state Superintendent Mark Johnson.

“This proposal today will give us even more tools to improve how we teach our youngest students,” Johnson said.

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