Education

Effectiveness of ‘Read to Achieve’ called into question after dip in reading scores

“Read to Achieve,” the state’s signature education reform program, was under attack Wednesday after the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) showed a dip in reading scores for North Carolina students.

The state has spent more than $150 million on the program since it was launched by the North Carolina’s Republican leadership in 2012 but has little to show for it.

The NAEP report shows reading scores in fourth-grade dropped between 2017 and 2019 and that the scores are lower than they were in 2011 before “Read to Achieve” was enacted.

More specifically, only 36 percent of fourth-graders were proficient in reading in 2019 compared to 39 percent in 2017. The percentage of eight-graders proficient in reading was unchanged at 33 percent both years.

The NAEP reading assessment is given every two years to students in grades 4 and 8.

Fourth-graders saw a one percent decrease in math proficiency, with the score dipping from 42 percent to 41 percent. Eight-graders saw a slight uptick in math scores, which increased to 37 percent, up two percentage points compared to 2017.

See the full report at: https://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/

The disappointing scores led the N.C. Association of Educators (NCAE) to call for a course correction.

“Scores should be viewed in context, over time and, just because a single test score goes up or down, it does not represent the complexity of the system, or should be interpreted to say that good things are not happening,” said NCAE President Mark Jewell. “But, taken in context and analyzed over time, what these scores do make clear is that the path set forth in 2012 of the ‘Read to Achieve’ program must be changed if we are serious about improving reading in North Carolina.”

Charlotte educator Justin Parmenter who blogs at “Notes form the Chalkboard” about education officials reminded us Wednesday that “Read to Achieve” was intended to end “social promotion” and help third-graders avoid what  Senate leader Phil Berger, a Republican from Rockingham, warned was an “economic death sentence” for third-graders who were not proficient in reading.

“Six years and approximately $200 million wasted taxpayer dollars after the debut of Read to Achieve, this latest round of test scores reinforces what many of us have been saying for years: state legislators need to focus on providing sufficient funding for public education in our state, stop legislating in the classroom, and let the professionals figure out how to get the job done,” Parmenter wrote.

In a news release, the N.C. Department of Public Instruction attempted to soften the news under the headline “NC Holds Stead on National Education Assessment.”

The press release went on to say that North Carolina was among 32 state without statistically significant changes in reading scores at the fourth-grade level and among 19 without significant change in eight-grade reading scores.

Meanwhile, in eight-grade math, North Carolina was one of 40 states that saw no significant change in fourth-grade math performance and among 42 states that saw no appreciable gains or losses in eight-grade math.

In announcing proposed reforms to “Read to Achieve” in April, Senate leader Phil Berger, a Republican from Rockingham, acknowledged that the program hasn’t lived up to expectations.

Berger said North Carolina would look to adopt best practices from other states such a Florida and Mississippi where early childhood literacy efforts are experiencing success.

NAEP scores released Wednesday showed that Mississippi was the only state to improve reading scores and was number one in the country for gains in fourth- grade reading and math.

Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed Berger’s reform legislation, calling it an attempt to put a “Band-Aid on a program where implementation has clearly failed.”

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