Education

Senate committee gave nods to K-12 bills, including Read to Achieve reboot

The Senate wrapped up last week by sending several key K-12 education bills to the rules committee, including one aimed at retooling the state’s controversial early childhood literacy initiative, Read to Achieve.

After spending more than $150 million on Read to Achieve since 2012, Senate leaders have  acknowledged the program hasn’t lived up to expectation.

Read to Achieve was supposed to ensure all North Carolina students are reading on grade level by end of third grade, but that hasn’t happened.

Sen. Phil Berger, a Rockingham Republican, introduced Senate Bill 438, or the “Excellent Public Schools Act” last month, billing it as a new initiative to improve Read to Achieve.

Berger appeared before the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday to ask colleagues to support the bill.

“Read to Achieve is working in some places and needs improvement and adjustments in others,” Berger said. “This bill is an effort at those adjustments.”

A 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.

“We might as well acknowledge there are some disappointments as far what we’ve seen in terms of outcomes,” Berger said. The key things is that we recognize that and are trying to work to make those corrections.”

Superintendent Mark Johnson also appeared before the committee to ask committee members to support for the bill.

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 doesn’t anticipate the reboot will cost additional money.

The Senate Education Committee also gave a nod to:

Senate Bill 399, which would allow retired teachers to return to work in “high-needs” schools without financial penalty.

If approved, retired teachers could be reemployed to teach at a high-need schools such as a Title I school or one that has received a school performance grade of “D” or “F.”

It would also apply to educators hired to teach Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) courses.

Reemployed teachers would be paid on the first step of the teacher salary scheduled. If they teach STEM and special education courses, both of which are hard to fill, they would be paid on the sixth step of the salary schedule.

That means teachers could earn $35,000 to $40,000 a year and continue to collect their state pensions.

And changes made to the bill last week would allow teachers to also receive a local salary supplement. A supplement is money school district’s pay teachers on top of their state salaries.

Senate Bill 621 , which would eliminate the use of the NC Final Exam as part of the statewide testing program beginning with the 2020-2021 school year.

Test reduction has been a major topic of discussion this legislative session. The House has already approved a bill that would eliminate end-of-grade exams in grades 3-8 and replace them with NC Check-Ins. The bill would also eliminate end-of- course exams for high school students and ACT WorkKeys tests.

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