Board of Ed member: Why learning to read matters and NC must do more

On the heels of a report showing too few third-graders demonstrating reading proficiency, State Board of Education member Wayne McDevitt shared a compelling story about a high school classmate who confessed he never learned to read.

McDevitt’s story came Wednesday near the conclusion of a discussion about the state’s Read to Achieve initiative on which the state has spent more than $150 million.

The Report to the General Assembly shows that 43.7 percent of third-graders tested statewide during the 2017-18 did not demonstrate reading proficiency.

The experts say that learning to read by the third grade is a good predictor of whether a student will graduate high school on time, and how well that student will do later in the workforce and in life.

McDevitt said his classmate is fortunate to have come along during a time when a person with a strong work ethic and good character could get by without learning to read.

“He’s done well,” McDevitt said the classmate who is also a preacher and memorizes sermons his wife reads to him. “He owns a couple of bulldozers and a backhoe.”

But McDevitt said the classmate acknowledged there’s no way he could do as well today because he wouldn’t be able to read construction documents.

McDevitt used the story to illustrate the importance of teaching children to read so they are prepared for college or work after graduation.

Approved by the General Assembly in 2012, The Read to Achieve initiative was designed to ensure students could read at grade-level by third grade.

But a study by researchers at N.C. State University last fall found that Read to Achieve has done little to improve early childhood literacy rates, despite the $150 million price tab.

“Our vision says that our graduates are going to be ready for post-secondary education, careers and go on to be productive citizens,” McDevitt said. “We as a state have to be passionate about this. We have to be persistent.”

State officials are not seeking legislative changes in the wake of the findings, but did issue three recommendations to improve Read to Achieve outcomes.

The recommendations include providing greater financial and support to schools, identifying and “scaling up” reading programs that work and transitioning from a third-grade “social promotion mindset to a literacy development mindset.”

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