By Alice Wellborn
Everyday Education 

The Pros And Cons Of The Read To Achieve Program


By Alice Wellborn

The Read to Achieve Program is part of the Excellent Public Schools Act, passed by the North Carolina General Assembly in 2012. Read to Achieve requires all traditional public school students, with a few exceptions, to read on grade level by the end of third grade. That’s quite a goal, particularly as it follows on the heels of the new, more rigorous academic standards that have recently been adopted by the state.

It should be noted that public charter schools are not currently held to this standard, although an advisory committee for the State Board of Education has recommended equitable treatment for charter and non-charter public schools.

In Transylvania County Schools, all parents of third graders have had an opportunity to attend an informational session about Read to Achieve at their child’s school. The state guide is posted on the school system website under the Departments tab/Curriculum and Instruction. Parents who have additional questions or concerns should talk with the teacher or the principal at their child’s school. Teachers are working very hard to make sure that our children have every opportunity to become proficient readers.

The state has revised Read to Achieve several times since 2012, and alterations continue to be made and proposed, so stay tuned! Here’s a brief overview of how the program currently works. (Check the state guide on the website for details and updates.)

Beginning in kindergarten, all students are tested three times a year using Reading 3D, a diagnostic tool that assesses progress and helps teachers plan instruction. If a student is below average in any skill area, the teacher sets up interventions and then gives quick little tests to monitor progress along the way. Students who perform well are progress-monitored just once, while students with significant skill deficits are monitored frequently.

As they enter third grade, students take the Beginning-of-Grade (BOG) test. Many of us remember the old third grade pre-test, which evaluated mastery of second grade level skills. The BOG is quite different because it evaluates students on third grade standards. In other words, the test measures how much of the third grade curriculum a child has mastered before receiving any third grade instruction. This is a true pre-test – how much does a child know at the beginning of the school year, and how much has he learned by the end.

The state expects both proficiency and growth in reading. Schools have several ways to demonstrate this.

The traditional way is the third-grade End-of-Grade (EOG) test. Students who read at or above grade level are expected to show proficiency by passing the reading EOG. Comparison to the BOG results shows growth. Those who don’t pass the EOG the first time are given a second shot. Students who pass either time are promoted to fourth grade.

Teachers can also use Student Reading Portfolios to show reading proficiency. Portfolios are designed for students who might have difficulty performing adequately on the EOG. Students must pass three tests (out of 10 opportunities) on 12 state reading standards. Basic arithmetic tells us that portfolio students must take (and classroom teachers must administer) between 36 and 120 tests, and they must pass at least 36 of them to meet the state promotion standard.

The portfolio option is one of the areas in which changes may be made at the state level. Educators have concerns about the number of tests a student must pass to demonstrate proficiency and the amount of time teachers must spend assessing rather than instructing.

Students who do not pass the test or the retest, but who have a “good cause exemption,” are also promoted. Good cause exemptions include students with limited English proficiency, some special education students, students with previous retentions, and students who demonstrate reading proficiency by alternate means.

Alternate tests include a state-developed test of reading comprehension (the Read to Achieve test) or a locally-designed, state-approved reading test. Transylvania County Schools is currently in the process of developing an alternate test.

Non-exempt students who have not demonstrated reading proficiency are eligible to attend a Summer Reading Camp. Parents must give permission for the camp, but if they decide against it, their child is retained in third grade. The reading camps are designed to run for six to eight weeks, four days a week, three to four hours a day. Transylvania County Schools is waiting for a final decision from the state before finalizing plans for the reading camp.

If students have not met the third grade reading standards by the end of Summer Reading Camp (passing the Student Reading Portfolio or an alternate test), they are placed in a transitional third/fourth grade class that focuses on intensive reading instruction.

Students who show proficiency on the portfolio or an alternate test by Nov. 1 are officially promoted to fourth grade, but remain in the transitional class. Students who are still not proficient in third grade reading skills are “labeled retained” on their permanent record, but they continue to work intensively on third and fourth grade reading skills in the transitional class. Whether promoted to fourth grade or “retained” in third grade, students in the transitional class take the fourth grade EOG and go on to fifth grade.

What do I like about Read to Achieve? Using assessment data to guide instruction is smart and effective, and it gives struggling readers every chance to improve their skills. Focusing on growth allows teachers to celebrate progress as well as proficiency, and that is good for students. Students have lots of different opportunities and different ways to demonstrate reading proficiency. An intensive summer reading experience is beneficial for students who continue to lag behind.

And what do I have concerns about? The number of assessments and the sheer amount of time they take from instruction is way over the top. Instructional time is a precious commodity, and too much of it is being sacrificed by both teachers and students. And if the goal is to make sure that all children read at grade level by the end of third grade, it would make a lot more sense to provide intensive summer reading programs for struggling students in earlier grades. Why wait for failure?

The transitional class appears to have its own set of problems. First of all, if children have not been able to master grade level reading skills after four years of instruction (K-3), why would they be able to master both third and fourth grade level skills after one year of instruction in the transitional class? I also have lots of concerns about giving children a “retention label.” What additional services are offered to these children? How does the label benefit them educationally?

We can all agree that most children should read on grade level by the end of third grade. Successfully meeting that goal requires lots of resources: small classes, protected instructional time, evidence-based intervention materials, intervention specialists and academic coaches, after-school and summer learning opportunities with paid staff, strong parent involvement.

If the state of North Carolina is serious about meeting the reading goal, the legislature will fund the Read to Achieve program at a level that gives school systems the resources they need to be successful.

(Wellborn now retired, but formerly a school psychologist in Transylvania County schools.)


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