But that should come as no surprise to teachers and administrators:
While improving reading outcomes is a worthy goal, it was obvious from the beginning that Read to Achieve lacked the educator’s touch. The initiative attempted to improve reading by increasing the volume of assessments in grades K-3 and ratcheting up the threats of retention, essentially punishing children for not being able to read well enough in early grades. It’s not the approach an effective teacher would take.
DPI warned the General Assembly that the volume of assessments the legislation added to 3rd grade was too high and that the pace and funding of implementation didn’t provide enough professional development for teachers to effectively transition to the new system. The General Assembly had also slashed Pre-K funding 25% from pre-recession levels at the time, and DPI informed legislators that quality early childhood education was one of the most important components of building a foundation for literacy. All of that feedback fell largely on deaf ears.
No big surprise at all. The GOP's operating mantra has been, "My bad policy is greater than even the best policies of other people. And if my policy ends up failing, it can easily be blamed on those other people for not properly supporting it." Just to give you an idea of the consequences of this mandated program, here's an excerpt of the letter sent to parents explaining it:
The North Carolina Read to Achieve Law: The Read to Achieve law requires third graders who score at Level 1 or 2 in reading on the third grade EOG be retained and not promoted to the fourth grade. However, students can receive a good cause exemption by showing proficiency on a Read to Achieve test (given after the EOG) or through a completed reading portfolio. If your child scores a Level 1 or 2 on the EOG and does not qualify for a good cause exemption, then the school will notify you in writing that your child must achieve proficiency before being promoted to the fourth grade. In addition, some students with an IEP who are being taught on alternate academic achievement standards, some limited English proficient students, and students who have been retained more than once before third grade also can receive a good cause exemption.
Summer Reading Camp: Students who do not show proficiency after third grade and who do not qualify for a good cause exemption, will attend summer reading camp. This camp will be provided by the local school district and will be of no cost to you. The summer reading camps will be at least six weeks in length and students can show proficiency after the camps by passing the Read to Achieve test or producing a completed reading portfolio. Those students showing proficiency will be promoted to the fourth grade. Note: A parent/guardian can decide that the student will not attend summer reading camp. In this case the student will be placed in a third grade class the following year.
Retention: If a student is still not proficient after the summer reading camp, the student moves to the next year with a “retained” label on his or her record. A child who is identified as retained under this law will be afforded many extra intensive interventions and opportunities to develop skills and gain proficiency. Retention gives the child the extra time that is needed to catch up in reading and build stronger skills for other content areas. Reading deficiencies must be addressed before students move into more difficult work and assignments in fourth grade and beyond. Students who are not competent in reading skills can become frustrated with more complex texts and tasks in the higher grades. It is necessary to make sure that all students are reading with proficiency before this occurs.
If I had received this letter when my kids were in elementary school, I probably would have freaked out a little bit. I always read to them, had them read to me, made sure they knew they could ask me what certain words meant, and even helped them chase down root words and synonyms to drive that understanding home. But even with that support, sometimes they got testitus, and choked up a little when being evaluated. That's a big reason why I'm opposed to the Istation move by Mark Johnson. The English language can be very challenging, and scaring kids (and parents) with threats of retention does not help.