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Senate moves to ease third-grade reading requirement

Posted May 28

Third-graders must prove reading ability under new law

— Senate leaders are backing a bill that will allow schools more flexibility in implementing the Read to Achieve law.

The 2012 law requires 36 separate tests to assess whether third-graders are up to grade level in reading comprehension. Those who are not, according to the law, must either attend a six-week reading camp over the summer or repeat the third grade. 

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger championed the legislation, saying too many children are being promoted despite weak reading skills, putting them at risk of falling further behind as they move through school. Studies show many students with reading difficulties drop out of high school.

However, since its implementation, teachers, parents and school administrators have complained that the law is overly strict and requires too much testing – three tests for each of 12 reading standards, all administered in the second half of the school year.

House Bill 230, unveiled in the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday morning, makes some key changes:

  • It directs the State Board of Education to develop alternative assessments in addition to the reading portfolio currently in use for testing.
  • It allows more flexibility for the summer reading camps, requiring 72 hours of instruction over at least three weeks, rather than spread over six weeks.
  • It allows parents to choose not to send their student to reading camp as long as the student can pass the needed tests by the end of the summer.
  • It also allows parents to send their children to reading camp even if they've already demonstrated proficiency. School districts will be allowed to charge a fee for those enrollments.
  • It makes more accommodations for children with learning disabilities and special needs.  
  • It spreads the testing throughout the third-grade year, rather than doing all assessments in the second half. 
  • It allows one test to demonstrate proficiency in two standards, potentially cutting the number of tests from 36 to 18. 

Berger told the committee the changes "will help us move further along on our goal of giving our children the opportunity to read."

"There have been quite frankly some glitches along the way," he said. "We have listened to concerns that have been expressed by parents, by superintendents, by teachers.

"The panel also heard testimony from Suzanne Templeton, who said her third-grade daughter will take 32 hours of standardized testing this year alone. She said the onslaught of reading assessments this semester has worsened her daughter's test anxiety, saying she comes home "emotionally and mentally wiped out."  

"These are things I experienced as a 19-year-old college student, not as an 8-year-old," Templeton said. "It's not making better students. It's making more stress."

Berger and other Republicans on the committee blamed much of the testing on the federal Race To The Top program.

"What would happen if we didn't honor the dictation down from the feds on testing these children?” asked Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson.

"I think everybody in this room is concerned about the amount of testing," Berger said. "With the acceptance of the federal dollars, we have the federal mandates as far as testing. I don’t know that we’re in a position to give up the dollars. We’re kind of trapped at this point." 

The bill could be on the Senate floor later this week.

10 Comments

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  • hforbes482 May 28, 6:38 p.m.

    I agree with everyone else. Third grade is to late to address a child who is struggling. By this time the child has given up and it takes years to get their confidence back.
    As for all the assessments. I believe Common Core only requires one assessment. (I could be incorrect on that though) These children take many other state required assessments for example M class and Maps that measure the same reading skills as the portfolio. All of these assessments cost Tens of thousands of dollars to the local school system.
    I added up all the time my daughter has spent on assessments this year. It came to a month of instructional time she has lost. Think of how much more she could learn with that month spent testing?
    Parents are starting to have their children refuse the EOG this year. I may do it for my kids next year. (careful if you chose this route though because if your child doesn't have a passing grade in the subject tested then they will fail for the year)

  • thefiredog May 28, 6:01 p.m.

    Wheelman, I concur with you regarding the testing. When one of these kids get cancer or some other disease they will undergo far less testing to diagnose the disease than they will to determine there reading ability.

    I've never understood why it takes a whole year to determine if a child is failing to understand the material. Would you accept the same from your mechanic? The basic school model needs to change.

  • Wheelman May 28, 4:29 p.m.

    Why in the world does it take 36 tests to know if a child is reading at any grade level? Testing is necessary, but that is past the point of being ridiculous! This is what you get with bureaucracies. And it's a big part of what is wrong with all government right now.

  • scubagirl2 May 28, 3:43 p.m.

    After 26 years of middle and high school teaching--and having far too many students who could... View More

    — Posted by josephlawrence43

    I don't think they need to ease the requirement I think they need to back off on all the testing! Keeping a kid back a year until able to pass the content is GOOD, passing them when they can't is VERY BAD

  • josephlawrence43 May 28, 3:26 p.m.

    After 26 years of middle and high school teaching--and having far too many students who could not read on a 3rdgrade level, much less a high school level, I say take these kids, put them in 3rd grade and keep them there until they can read. Regardless of how long it takes.

  • thefiredog May 28, 1:22 p.m.

    Third grade in theory was chose because studies have shown that students are behind on there reading in third grade they have a difficult time progressing in later grades.

  • iopsyc May 28, 1:08 p.m.

    Third grade is way too late to say you're going to hold students back so they can catch up. If... View More

    — Posted by Tarheel girl03

    Third grade was chosen mostly because it's the first year in which there are state standardized tests to judge the student's competence. Since the law is applied across the state, it had to rely on a measure that is consistent in the entire state.

    note: I am not saying if it's right or wrong, just offering an explanation as to why it is 3rd grade.

  • Tarheel girl03 May 28, 12:46 p.m.

    Third grade is way too late to say you're going to hold students back so they can catch up. If students are not reading on level by the time they leave 1st grade, chances are they are going to stay behind. NC should recruit the very best and brightest to teach K-2 so students can have the best chance at a strong foundation.

  • johnrmccray May 28, 12:29 p.m.

    My daughter is in the third grade and the biggest problem is this mandate ignores students that actually excel in reading. My daughter reads at a seventh grade level but has to continually take the reading assessment tests and spend class time working on reading exercises, all while other subjects are ignored or only given cursory attention.

  • krimson May 28, 10:58 a.m.

    Hey Berger, how do you institute "merit pay" for teachers without a way to measure their progress, namely testing of children???