@NCCapitol

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Read to Achieve Part II: Berger, Johnson call for early reading reforms

Posted April 1, 2019 4:27 p.m. EDT
Updated April 1, 2019 5:01 p.m. EDT

— Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson rolled out a revamp of Berger's "Read to Achieve" program Monday, pitching changes meant to improve a 6-year-old program to boost literacy by the third grade.

A number of details would get filled in later by the state Department of Public Instruction, which is tasked in Senate Bill 438 with reporting back on various strategies, including a range of online resources. But perhaps the bill's biggest change would be new "Individual Reading Plans" for students testing below grade level.

These plans would lay out "specific reading skill deficiencies," goals for growth and "the specific additional instructional services and interventions the student will receive," the bill states.

Parents would be given "strategies that can be easily understood and implemented."

It was not entirely clear Monday how this would differ from current practice, but the plans would be new. There's no new funding in the bill, though Berger, R-Rockingham, said some could be added as the legislature tackles this year's budget.

Berger also said Florida and Mississippi both implemented IRPs and that Mississippi, in particular, saw gains. That state's Department of Education said in February that Mississippi was second in the nation for gains in fourth-grade reading from 2007 to 2017.

Johnson said the bill won't be a burden for teachers. Berger's office said the plans will harness existing data in new ways. It's possible a computer program, which the state is working on with vendors now, could produce parts of the IRP based on data about each student.

"This is not going to be something where we're putting more demands on teachers," Johnson said during a roll-out press conference.

The state would also get more involved in planning local summer reading camps for students struggling to read, addressing uneven implementation of a signature initiative in Berger's 2013 Read to Achieve plan.

The state has put more than $150 million into that plan so far, and a study last year by North Carolina State University found no gains for the first year of students involved. Inconsistent implementation by individual school districts was one of the study's complaints, and Berger's office said at the time that the state had already made changes since students included in the study had begun the program.

DPI would have to sign off on local camp plans before state money could flow under the new bill, which also says retired teachers could be brought in to work at the camps and be paid $2,000.

The state would also assemble a task force under the bill to recommend any number of changes to early childhood and elementary education, as well as teacher development. DPI would also create a "Digital Children's Reading Initiative," linking parents online to "thoroughly vetted, high-quality resources" that are organized so parents can quickly find something to address their student's individual issues with reading, such as phonics or vocabulary.

Johnson and Berger pointed to Read Charlotte as an example of how this would work.

Berger said there are a lot of moving parts in the bill, but the goal is a continued focus on reading in the early grades, a key to education in general.

"The overarching theme is this: Read to Achieve is working well in some places and needs adjustments in others," Berger said.