Raleigh, N.C. — Third-grade students across North Carolina will have a new test to pass this year, one that will determine whether they are reading well enough to move on to the next grade.
The state’s Read to Achieve program, which was passed by lawmakers in July 2012 as part of the North Carolina Excellence in Public Schools Act, takes effect this year with a standardized test given at the beginning of the third grade to evaluate reading proficiency.
The results will be compared with the standardized end-of-grade test taken at the end of the third-grade year.
Under the program, students who aren’t reading at or above grade level will have to retake the test, get an exemption or enroll in a summer reading program.
If those don't work, the student could be held back.
But as far as educators are concerned, failure is not an option.
“That is a last resort, and it's something we do not want to do,” said Eric Fitts, principal of Brentwood Elementary School in Raleigh.
Fitts said there's a provision in the law that allows for exceptions for children who, for example, have special needs or an extended illness or experienced a traumatic event. He said the key is identifying the issue early.
“We want to help them throughout the school year and not just wait to the end of the school year to put something in place to help them be successful,” he said.
In 2012, about 30 percent of North Carolina’s third-graders could not read at or above their grade level.
Brentwood Elementary teacher Jasmine Smiley said she will use the data from the test taken at the start of the school year as a framework for individual reading lessons.
Still, there can be struggles.
“They try so hard, and some children just can't pick up as fast as others,” she said.