New tests designed to assess kids’ reading ability are causing shock-waves all over the state. The third grade reading test is North Carolina’s method of monitoring its Read to Achieve Program, a standard set of literacy expectations passed in 2012. Although the idea of encouraging reading and using standard assessments to track progress has widespread support, North Carolina parents are taking issue with its consequences.
The Read to Achieve program requires North Carolina third-grade students to read on grade level by the end of the 2014 school year. To track that goal, teachers administered reading tests in the fall and will test again at the end of spring. Students who pass neither test will face summer school, further testing, or even be held back until they read at grade level.
Nearly half of last year’s third graders failed a similar test, a statistic that worries teachers who are expected to bring 8- and 9-year-olds in line with the new, exceptionally high expectations. Everyone wants widespread literacy, but the idea of sending hundreds of thousands of third graders to summer school sounds crazy.
Part of the problem with this school year’s implementation is the state’s recent adoption of the Common Core Curriculum, which changed some teaching standards and brought more rigorous expectations to the classroom. Students unused to the new curriculum who are being taught by teachers who are unused to the new curriculum are bound to struggle at first. Another difficulty with the tests is the fact that some school districts have begun testing students on a much more difficult portfolio of short exams, which were initially designed to supplement the end of grade test for students who had difficulty.
In early February, the state gave school districts permission to design and use other tests to measure reading ability. At least 15 districts in central North Carolina have announced plans to use other assessments already in place in the classroom. This is a stopgap measure, however, and there is no promise that teachers and districts will be allowed to continue this practice in future school years.
For now, 20% of North Carolina’s third graders have already passed the assessment and will not need to attend summer school or repeat a grade. Whether the ability to use other tests will help reward good reading skills without leaving students behind still remains to be seen. State lawmakers are continuing to debate changing the plan, but for now Read to Achieve remains intact– and the possibility of summer school looms.