Berger, Atkinson at odds over reading requirements

Posted February 4, 2014

June Atkinson, North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction

— The state Senate's top leader and the head of North Carolina's school system are at odds over a new state law that requires all third-grade students to pass a standard reading test before moving on to fourth grade.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson, a Democrat, says she supports provisions of a 2012 state law that puts more resources toward helping struggling third-graders read. However, she says that parents, teachers and principals should be the ones ultimately making the decision as to whether students should advance.

Lawmakers, she said, should make changes to the law to give school districts more flexibility. 

"That decision should be made closest to the child," Atkinson said, adding there were big downsides to "labeling a child as a failure."

The new promotion law has been a centerpiece of Sen. Phil Berger's education reform package. Berger, a Republican and the powerful Senate president pro tem, points to studies showing that students who don't read well by the end of third grade are more likely to have trouble later on in their academic career and drop out of high school.

"Superintendent Atkinson’s continued insistence that we keep advancing kids who can’t read into fourth grade is disturbing and could amount to an economic death sentence for those students," Berger said in a news release. "We – the legislature, the Department of Public Instruction, educators and parents – can no longer accept allowing even a single child who has the ability to learn to leave third grade unable to read.”

Berger pointed out that, in 2010, Atkinson promoted standards for fifth- and eighth-grade students that also served as a gateway to higher grades. 

Atkinson said she supports portions of Berger's plan that invest in summer reading camps for students and give grade-level teachers extra help in bringing students up the speed. However, she said that holding children in third grade on the basis of one reading score was unwise.

"I have personal reasons for thinking this," Atkinson said Tuesday.

She pointed to her nephew, now a college freshman, who struggled with reading at the end of third grade. Instead of holding him back, her nephew's school helped him bring his reading skills up to par. At the same time, she said, her nephew was able to advance with his friends from church, baseball and school.

Atkinson said she was optimistic that the legislature might adopt changes to the law that would allow schools to make "more individual" decisions for each student.

"There are some provisions of the bill that are somewhat burdensome for students," she said.


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  • dragonflycloudrider Feb 9, 2014

    I went to the meeting about the reading last week.

    STOP FREAKING OUT. THE ONLY way a child will be held back to the 4th grade is IF THEY DON"T go to the reading camp if they can't pass the reading portion.

    So maybe some should stop commenting if they didn't attend the meeting about the reading issues.

    They are even getting maybe at risk kids , they don't want anyone to fall through the cracks.

    So if a parent chooses NOT to put their kid into the reading camp ( parents don't have to pay for this ) then they choose their child to fail, if they fail all the reading testing.

    I'm more concerned why stupid athletes who are getting free college educations can't READ and write, yes this mean you UNC

  • teacher2X4 Feb 9, 2014

    If this was such a good idea then why was Read to Achieve passed into law without public input or a vote. This is the work of one man (Berger) who has no experience in education or childhood development. Most people know the statistics. A child that is below grade level in reading by the end of 3rd grade has little chance of catching his peers, but we must also remember that all children develop at their own rate and to assume that all children should be at the same level by the end of 3rd grade goes against early childhood research. What is really at work here is the attempt by Berger to dismantle public education for his families own personal gain. His son Phil Berger Jr. Is seeking approval for a charter school application in Rockingham County. Funny that Charter Schools are exempt from this even through statistics show charter schools generally perform the same or lower than public school students. Why are charters exempt (When Bergers son is on the board), yet public schools aren

  • corginole Feb 5, 2014

    I understand the sentiment that Berger intends, but the execution is horrific. My son, now in 7th grade, has yet to pass a Reading EOG. He is a bright, well-spoken young man, with a documented reading/learning disability and an incredible case of test anxiety that I attribute directly to the current EOG structure. We foolishly allowed the school to retest him in the 3rd and 4th grade, not knowing that we had the option to say no - which has made the test anxiety and his desire to try plummet. Additionally - we have received NO meaningful information from his EOG results as to things that could be done differently in the classroom. That feedback comes from his teachers and the ongoing school based assessments. He is finally reading close to grade level and starting to excel and work to his potential.

    I urge the lawmakers to allow local school administrators, teachers and parents to make the decision based upon the student's entire portfolio - not just one end of grade test.

  • Rebelyell55 Feb 5, 2014

    You get the feeling that the guy knows he is wrong, but to big headed to admit or try and fix a bad law?

  • sartainfamily Feb 5, 2014

    So the Denver Broncos lost the Super Bowl. Therefore, they are a failure of a team.
    It matters not that they won their division and were successful for the vast majority of the season. They lost that ONE game and now they have failed as a football team.

    That is the same mentality that people have when under the belief that using one standardized test to determine whether or not a child has failed is a good idea.

  • uBnice Feb 5, 2014

    View quoted thread

    To begin with, we need to stop letting highly unqualified people make decisions that affect all of us in this manner. Berger has no qualification to make any judgement on education testing, particularly compared to Atkinson. And he does it without any informational support from a respectable source.

    Berger should stay in his lane.

  • hforbes482 Feb 5, 2014

    Here is another thought.
    Parents not only aren't allowed to view even samples of these "tests" DPI is requiring but we are not notified of how our children are doing on them. Our children are pulled out of class for remediation w/o parents being notified or giving permission. It is all Hush Hush. DPI and the state has taken away parents rights to have knowledge of how our children are doing.
    Yes you read this correctly. Parents are receiving nothing from the schools on how OUR children are doing. I call for WRAL to do a true investigation on how this is being handled, get copies of these "tests" and have them evaluated by someone on the level of them, how long it takes the children to do them, and why parents aren't told anything. I call for WRAL to stop just reporting after the fact and truly do a report on the actual "tests".

  • hforbes482 Feb 4, 2014

    Something to think about MANY studies show that retaining a child in school in most cases does not help the child. At most it is in most cases a band aid. Let's re evaluate the whole EOG and assessment process. Something is broken with this system and maybe we need to totally tear it down and start again.
    For our children's sake and our teacher's.

  • sisu Feb 4, 2014

    I had a long post but accidentally got past 1000 letters and it disappeared. Sigh.

    Anyway, my point was that I volunteered at my daughter's school this week and was asked to have students read to me individually and ask them questions about their reading. I was impressed. Even though there were different levels of difficulty their comprehension was excellent. Even the "slowest" reader was quite competent.

    The sad thing is, I know only 30% or so of her classmates were predicted to pass the EOG -type test to go into 4th grade. I don't know what is wrong. I don't know if it is the test itself or that test-taking doesn't suit some 8 year olds well, but, I am convinced that far more than 30% of those students were reading at or above grade level.

    I'm not worried about my own daughter. She will pass. I worry about what failing will do to these competent and wonderful kids.

  • ILoveDowntownRaleigh Feb 4, 2014

    "Berger and Atkinson both have lost their minds." - hforbes482

    Please don't paint Atkinson with same brush as Berger.

    Berger is an attorney with absolutely no qualifications to attempt legislation in the area of education.

    Even some prominent 2012 Berger campaign donors are now coming together (use internet search for more details) to fight his extreme anti-education agenda. Let's hope they succeed, if not for us for the children of North Carolina.