5/29/14 Senate panel approves changes to third-grade reading program

Senate panel approves changes to third-grade reading program
The Associated Press, The Times-News 5/29/14  
Reprinted with permission.      

   RALEIGH — North Carolina’s new requirements for third-graders to show they’re reading proficient and should be promoted were altered Wednesday by Senate Republicans in response to complaints from educators and parents about testing anxiety.

   The changes approved by the Senate Education Committee came from chamber leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, who championed the “Read to Achieve” law developed over the past two years. While third-graders have five ways to show they meet reading standards, one path requiring them to take up to 36 in-class mini-tests starting this calendar year caused the most handwringing in schools. It had initially raised fears that most of the state’s 105,000 third-graders would be forced to get extra summer help.

   “We have listened to concerns,” Berger said during the committee. “This bill helps address those concerns.”

   The State Board of Education agreed in February to allow all school districts to administer their own version of the reading “portfolio” tests as long as local boards determine they reliably demonstrate reading comprehension in third grade.

   Some school districts initially had decided to require all of their third-grade students to take the state-developed reading “portfolio” tests. But teachers and local administrators said the state-offered exams weren’t appropriate to evaluate necessary third-grade skills.

   Berger’s proposed changes would allow the tests to begin earlier in the school year, while an approved amendment from Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake, could reduce the number of required mini-tests. It also gives districts more flexibility on how to implement summer reading camps, which students are offered to participate and build skills before taking another proficiency test after camp or during a combined third- and fourth-grade class next fall. Students already can meet the reading promotion requirements by passing an early-year test or an end-of-grade test.

   The bill also would give additional exemptions to prevent students from being kept back, such as those with learning disabilities.

   About 65 percent of North Carolina fourth-graders last year read below proficiency levels on a national exam considered more difficult than recent North Carolina reading tests.

   The bill next goes to the Senate floor.