After spending more than $150 million on Read to Achieve, a statewide early childhood literacy program that has yielded poor results, state Senate leaders introduced a sweeping bill Monday to strengthen the controversial initiative designed to get more children to read by third-grade
Senate Bill 438, also known as the “Excellent Public Schools Act of 2019” was introduced by Senate leader Phil Berger, a Republican from Rockingham, who acknowledged Read to Achieve hasn’t lived up to expectations.
“Read to Achieve is working well in some places and needs adjustments in others,” Berger said. “We want the best policies that put North Carolina students in a position to succeed. That is our first and only goal. If some things need fixing, then let’s fix them. And if some things are working well, let’s replicate those.”
As N.C. Policy Watch reported previously, the statewide report on Read to Achieve program found more than 43 percent of third-graders tested during the 2017-18 school year did not demonstrate reading proficiency.
There were bright spots like Mooresville City Schools and Watauga County Schools where the pass-rate was roughly 72 percent. But in places like Edgecombe County Public School and Thomasville City Schools, the percentage of third graders not reading at-grade level exceeded 63 percent.
SB 438 would focus on improving classroom instruction, reading camps, educator training and data collection. And the state’s higher education community would be asked to help streamline literacy instruction in both K-3 classrooms and in teacher preparation programs.
More specifically, the four-pronged strategy would involve:
- Developing individual reading plans for K-3 students not reading at grade level.
- The development of a Digital Children’s Reading Initiative that parents could use to access online resources to help children improve reading.
- The creation of a task force to improve literacy instruction.
- The development of summer reading camp standards.
Berger noted that the new initiative would look to adopt best practices from other states. He cited Florida and Mississippi as two states were early childhood literacy efforts have experienced success.
“The interesting thing about the Mississippi experience is, like North Carolina, they began a program similar to Read to Achieve without the individualized plans and then in 2016 they implemented the individualized plans and what they saw was a significant jump in their reading outcomes as a result of that,” Berger said.
John B. Buxton, a member of the State Board of Education (SBE), said SB 438 address issues found when the board partnered with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) to a look at Read to Achieve, data trends and what other states are doing to improve early childhood literacy.
Buxton said the study found that North Carolina needs to “tighten implementation at the state and local level” for Read to Achieve and provide teachers with greater support.
Superintendent Mark Johnson said early childhood literacy continues to be a top priority.
After taking office, Johnson said he initiated a “deep dive” into how Read to Achieve was implemented by NCDPI.
“What we found were hard truths about how NCDPI implemented that program and we took steps to make sure we addressed those issues,” Johnson said.
He said he has been working with superintendents, schools of education, the General Assembly and teachers to identify other needed improvements for Read to Achieve.
As it currently stands, Berger said SB 438 wouldn’t require additional money.
“There’s been a substantial commitment of resources thus far to the Read to Achieve program and those dollars may well be sufficient to address the changes that we’re talking about but if it does take additional money, I’m sure the legislature will take a serious look at that,” Berger said.