Raleigh, N.C. — 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.