Students, parents and teachers across North Carolina call on the General Assembly to take bolder steps to rectify the widespread problems with the Read to Achieve legislation.
This morning, the Senate Committee on Education/Higher Education proposed some changes to Read to Achieve. But while these changes will provide some welcome relief for children with disabilities, they will do little to reduce the amount of extra testing Read to Achieve requires, the added pressure it has put on third graders, or the harm it threatens to do to some of North Carolina’s most vulnerable eight-year-olds. Stronger action is needed.
Read to Achieve contains three fundamental flaws.
1. It requires that children be retained based on test scores. Decades of research have clearly established that in most cases retention does children more harm than good. A decision of such importance should be made by parents and teachers who work closely with children and know them as individuals, rather than by a piece of legislation passed in Raleigh.
2. It makes life-changing decisions based on standardized test scores. While standardized tests can provide useful information, they measure only a narrow set of the skills needed to read avidly and well. When standardized test scores are used in high-stakes decisions such as retention or mandatory summer school, schools often focus all their efforts on the skills the tests can measure. Rather than reading and exploring rich, engaging texts, students at all levels are forced into a dull routine of worksheets and skills practice that diminishes both their love of reading and their interest in school. While the 36 “portfolio” tests created in response to the legislation exacerbated this situation, the fundamental problem lies in the high-stakes use of test scores.
3. It begins its most significant intervention far too late. Successful reading requires a strong foundation at an early age. Rather than imposing penalties in third grade, legislation should focus efforts and funds on providing additional supports for challenged readers starting in kindergarten or earlier.
We do not believe that our General Assembly needs or wishes to punish children in order to focus the attention of adults on the problems with reading that North Carolina children face.
If members of the General Assembly wish to help children learn to read, and to reduce out-of-control testing, they will take a close look at the results of their own actions. We call on them to draw on the experience and advice of North Carolina teachers, students and parents. They should remove the threat of test-based retention, postpone the “portfolio” requirements until a set of non-test-based portfolio items can be developed, and find resources to provide more intensive support for struggling readers in earlier years.