Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Third-grade reading: Less testing, more flexibility?

A panel of educators and parents studying North Carolina's Read to Achieve program will ask lawmakers for fewer tests,  more flexibility and a one-year reprieve in mandated penalties for kids who fail exams,  the state Department of Public Instruction announced today.

The Read to Achieve Advisory Group's recommendations will go to the state legislature when it convenes in May.  Meanwhile,  the state Board of Education will consider proposals to relieve the testing burden on many local school districts at Wednesday's meeting.

The program is designed to make sure third-graders can read well before moving up,  a goal almost everyone supports.  But the specifics have proven problematic,  especially a  "portfolio"  option designed as an alternative to passing a one-time state exam.  In its current version,  students who want to demonstrate reading proficiency through the portfolio have to pass 36 small reading assessments between now and year's end.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Cabarrus, Cleveland, Gaston, Hickory, Kannapolis, Mooresville and Union County schools are among the 16 districts seeking approval this week for alternative testing approaches  (read their proposals here; click item II-B2 for a link).

In the longer run,  the advisory panel is asking the legislature to scale back portfolio testing,  give school districts more flexibility in school calendars and summer reading camps,  and count the current year as a trial run for Read to Achieve.

Lynn Bonner at the News & Observer reports that Senate leader Phil Berger, the law’s champion, doesn’t like that last part.

“No,” Berger said in a statement. “It’s wrong to let another class of third graders slip through the cracks. Passing them along unprepared has not solved the problem before, and it is not a solution now.”

Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/02/04/3590879/berger-pops-read-to-achieve-trial.html#storylink=cpy


Wiley Coyote said...

...it's the typical educrat/political "we can't come up with a simple, viable solution to ensure kids in the third grade are reading on grade level" program.

Oh, wait, or was that the bell schedule? Same thing.

You would think that by the third grade, these same educrats would have a good idea at the end of second grade who needs help and who doesn't.

Pamela Grundy said...

Let's be a little clearer. Most of this testing is mandated not by educators, but by politicians that have passed laws requiring them (this test-based third-grade reading requirement, for example, was passed by our state legislators using an ALEC blueprint; the NCLB testing requirements were passed by federal legislators in a bipartisan vote).

Teachers know who needs help and who doesn't. The problem is that politicians seem unwilling to trust teachers.

As the mother of a child who has always read and understood at high levels, but who hasn't performed especially well on what I and many others consider a highly problematic reading test, I'll take a teacher's opinion any day.

Shamash said...

One reason that "politicians" don't trust "teachers" is that we have millions of students who have passed third grade (and possibly even High School) who can't read.

Or who read at an extremely low level.

They had them when I was in school in the 1960's and they have them today.

Someone keeps passing these kids.

So now we have all these stupid regulations and tests mandated by the educrats as they are being forced to clean up the mess the educrats either created or tolerated for decades.

I'm not sure it's the "teachers" who are at fault, though.

I suspect that it's the other educrats who look worse than the teacher does when a kid is held back.

That and all the counselors who are more concerned about "self-esteem" than what a kid learns.

Not sure when that began (I've seen that it started in the 1930's), but I suspect that it got seriously bad somewhere in the 1960's.

Pamela Grundy said...

1. There may be a problem, but this is a terrible way to address it, especially given how problematic the reading tests are. As we are seeing, it will do far more harm than good.

2. It often makes more sense to pass a student who struggles in one subject, and then provide extra support, than to retain that student. Retention is an extremely blunt instrument for something that is often a complex problem.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in Cabarrus County so I am weighing in....don't forget that in reality....parents (us) are the main teachers for our children. Yes, the schools lay the foundations for some academic learning but they are not with our children all the time....homework used to be done along with parents...When I was small and learning to read...my parents listened to me read a book before betime..it was part of my homework...of course, we didn't have the ipad, or facebook...or netfix.....AND it's hard...now in most families, both parents work...they are tired when they get home..a quick let me look at your homework..okay now take a bath and go to bed....
The teachers can not be expected to do it all...the parents have to come along side the teachers...the teachers have to talk to the parents to let them know what to work on....communication is the key.....Children can learn if you introduce them to things in a positive way....and keep reinforcing it....
Testing can be deceiving... Keep in mind that there are at least 7, yes SEVEN ways to learn...(using our senses)....and for some reason schools only test in 1 or 2 of them....

Wiley Coyote said...


It's just as bad for educrats to decide where a child should be placed in classes the next year based on the previous year EOG tests.

As I've said before, every year we would have to go to my son's school and get his schedule changed to more challenging courses. There were times when we couldn't get some classes changed.

Like your son, he didn't perform well at taking standardized tests and that reflected in his scores, which contradicted the grades he made during the year.

Regarding passing a student who is struggling with extra support, I don't belive that option is viable due to the large numbers of kids who need the extra help. It's only going to get worse with the new grading standards.

What's going to happen to a child who gets to the sixth grade but still reads on a 3rd grade level?

Anonymous said...

So are they going to have to hire more teachers? My school has just had 2 more teachers turn in 30 days. 5 so far this school year. I have never seen so many teachers leave before summer break. Evan the " somebody's got a case of the Mondays" types. The ones who always see the glass half full are putting resumes out. Students are even starting to notice. I have never scene so many long term subs.

Anonymous said...

We are starting to take bets on who will leave or retire next.

Pamela Grundy said...


I entirely agree that placing exclusively based on standardized tests is a problem. In that situation, tests are most helpful when a student who for whatever reason is overlooked by teachers blows a test away. There's good data on patterns within CMS in which students of color in particular, but probably also some white students weren't placed in advanced classes despite high test scores. So a high score should get you in but a low score shouldn't keep you out, if you can do the work.

7:50 p.m. The problem with what the state has done is that they're demanding a big improvement but not providing the resources to make the improvement. The idea seems to be that putting in severe sanctions will make teachers and students work harder. But as most teachers and many students are already doing the best they can with available resources, all that's going to happen, in my opinion, is more teaching to the test.

Anonymous said...

Wiley Coyote is a prime example of what a good North Carolina legislator should be, opinionated and know very little about the subject they are talking about.

Anonymous said...

"What happens to a child who reaches 6th grade and reads on a 3rd grade reading level????" Simple answer: he later runs for office and becomes a North Carolina Legislator!

FWIW said...

"Flexibility" in CMS and in most public schools just means social promotion bottom line. NC legislators know all too well how much per pupil spending has gone up over the last 20 to 30 years and how achievement has not.

8:21, Wiley has OJT, of the most valuable type. You hear parents and teachers hollering about lack of textbooks, Wiley has seen rooms of them stored away till they rotted or fell out of the current version never to be used. We'd be blessed to have him as our superintendent. Public schools would become public education. They would no longer be a dumping grounds for incompetent parents for babysitting services. They would no longer be puppets and social experiments for politicians especially the federal ones.

Anonymous said...

Text books are useless unless they match the curriculum. The curriculum is useless unless it match's the test. The test changes every 4 years. I really do not care what curriculum I teach. I do not care what test I have to teach to. After a 11 years and 2 districts in 2 states, I will never understand NC. Everything needs a task force or a panel. One committee meets and a new one is made. When I first moved her the NC standards where the word from above. Now common core. We have so many test, I can't even name them all any more. Schools have testing coordinators just to manage them all. It's nuts. This place is nuts. When my aunt was a 3rd grade teacher, she complained about social promotions. The people in charge did not listen. Teachers at my school complain now about the effort it takes to fail a student. When I was a student, if I didn't do my work and failed my test, I failed the class. If a teacher try's to fail a student today, they better come prepared. You need to show all your interventions. You need documentation, phone call records, time after school to tutor. It's not wort it. Not only is the parent angry with you, your administration is. Its nuts... 7:50, 7:55, at our school we are judging what teacher leaves with the most style.

Anonymous said...

So, just to clarify.......if a child has a deficit in reading.......taking instructional time out of their day and replacing it with more tests helps them learn to read more proficiently? There are lots of issues with this legislation - if social promotion is truly at the heart of this law - then why did our law makers do away with the Gateways? It's simple.....it didn't work then, and it won't work now. If our politicians really want to improve public schools, they must first address the problems in our society..... Not enough jobs, the mentality that "the government will keep me up!", substance abuse, greed, and a sense of entitlement without earning it......just to name a few. Our schools mirror our society......but it's easier to just place the blame on teachers......because they don't know HOW to fix the problems our politicians created!

Wiley Coyote said...


Thank you for verifying that I get under the skin of status quo people like you who couldn't put together two coherent, fact based thoughts on any subject.

Keep trying though!

BolynMcClung said...


Let's take Pam's thought about teachers over politicians.

Over half the students in CMS are funded with extra money because they either live in special ZIPCODES or come from families that have applied for one or more government subsidies.

The district could better direct its funds if it relied on a teacher's test instead of an income test to see who needs help in the classroom.

Bolyn McClung

Shamash said...

Given a choice between trusting politicians and trusting teachers, I'd usually pick the teacher.

However, if a kid is in the third grade and CANNOT read...

Then that is THREE STRIKES AND YOU ARE OUT for the teachers and the schools.

Yes, because they've had THREE YEARS to correct the problem and have NOT SUCCEEDED.

It should be treated like a national health problem.

Like finding an overly obese 300lb 3rd grader who is barely able to walk and breathe in the classroom.

They need intensive care.

Not "social promotion".

That's why all the hullabaloo.

And not knowing how to read is not like failing one class (in something like Algebra).

It is failing EVERY class.

The kid should be put into special classes until they learn how to read at grade level.

Even if it embarrasses them.

And maybe using the blunt instrument at an early age will prevent life from knocking them cold when they graduate or drop out.

I've seen those High School basketball players who can't read and been in the dumbed-down classes teachers prepare to try to "save" them.

Coddling the illiterate helps no one in the classroom.

This isn't just about tests, it's about kids who cannot read well by any measure.

And we produce them by the thousands if not millions.

Shamash said...

Sure, there's plenty wrong with the legislation.

More testing is not the answer for sure.

But HOW does a kid get to the third grade not knowing how to read in the first place?


I know it didn't happen with my kids.

Because my kids WENT to school knowing how to read, at least the basics.

My son had problems speaking when he was 2 or 3 years old and we had a "specialist" come work with him for a few months. He finally caught on. I think he would have anyway, but still we brought in the "specialist".

But he reads at least a year ahead according to MAP tests.

My daughter started reading simple words when she was 3 years old and, at 4, can read some simple books, sentences, and even some fairly complicated words.

She sounds them out phonetically and does a pretty good job.

Yes, we taught her phonics and read to her, gave her reading material, let her watch ETV, and answered her questions.

I have NO DOUBT that she will be reading at grade level by third grade, and most likely a few grades ahead.

So, if a rank amateur like me (and millions others) can do this, then why can't paid professionals do the same?

Or at least recommend intervention at an early enough age that this isn't even an issue for 99% of the kids by the third grade.

I know it has a lot to do with the parents, but still, catch this at an earlier age and there WILL BE NO EXTRA TESTS.

I saw it in the flowchart.

If the kids DON'T have a problem reading, they DON'T go through all the extra tests.

Shamash said...

Meanwhile, this is the "real world" product of our education system:


Yep. Still happening.

It wasn't just a fluke that I, as a student "helper", had to read American History tests to illiterate basketball players in the ninth grade.

We're still making them that way.

Anonymous said...

The Read to Achieve tests are the most nonsensical way to approach the problem of social promotion. Students should be held back in K, 1, or 2 if they aren't reading on grade level by the end of the year. Holding them back 'by label only' in 4th or holding them back to be over tested again in 3rd makes absolutely no sense. I can't honestly tell you how much I taught the past few weeks. In fact, I feel as if I didn't teach. I tested. I tested through Reading 3D. I tested through AIMSWEB. I tested through Read to Achieve. I am no longer a teacher in the state of NC. I am a test administrator. Phil Berger doesn't want a whole class of students to be passed on? I don't want a whole class of students to be forced through reading only with absolutely no idea of the Math, Science, or Social Studies they need to succeed. I don't want to feel as if my child in 3rd grade will need to be home educated in all other subjects through the summer because God knows she won't get it in school this year. It isn't the teacher's fault. I WANT to teach my students. I WANT my child to learn. I am being forced to over test and watch these students who desperately need intervention fall further and further behind. I can't intervene for them or help them because I am so busy giving another assessment. Insanity.

Anonymous said...

As a teacher I wish more parents would work with their children on homework in the evening, but I have problems because they tell me the children are too busy with important things (cheerleading, football, etc) and they can't get homework done. In response we now give very, very little homework except for reading, which most of the time doesn't get done either. I applaud those parents who help their children prepare for school by actually teaching them their letters and numbers before they start school. I wish that teachers could spend one-on-one time with each student, but it is physically impossible. Please remember that we have them 7 1/2 hours a day and we are not their parents.

Unknown said...

As an elementary educator and a parent of first grader, I am very sad at the state education is in right now. I don't think the politicians that mandate these tests realize the amount of time it takes to administer these tests. Time that is taken away from instruction. I teach kindergarten and have spent the last two weeks testing children. These "benchmarks" are given three times a year and take teachers on average of two weeks to collect this "data". That is six weeks of the school year taken up by testing. And, that doesn't include the testing that third grade will now have to endure.

I also think about our academically, average child that may have a bad day and not do their best on "THE" test. Now, this child will be punished (because that's what it is, a punishment) to have to endure more tests. What will this do to this child's self esteem? How exactly will this motivate them to want to go to school and be successful?

Think about the pressure we are putting on these sweet children. Why can't we just let them be children? This isn't cooperate America we are dealing with. These are young children. If it continues, these children are going to be so burned out before they even reach middle school.

Lighten up! Let children learn to love reading.

Shamash said...


So what about the kids who ARE prepared for reading?

This whole testing hullabaloo is really unfair to them.

And a drag on THEIR education.

But no one seems too concerned about that from what I see. It's all about the laggards.

I'm not so sure that an "average" kid can't learn to read BEFORE first grade. Or at least by the end of first grade.

If not, then what are they DOING in the schools? Arts & crafts?

My girl started reading at 3, and at 4 she can pretty much read a lot of everyday things like "whole milk" on a package of cheese and "bubble fruit" on her toothpaste tube.

We didn't teach her all that, but she figured it out. And she can read some simple books.

She reads all the time and asks questions about words.

And I've seen other kids like that too (so, no, I'm not saying MY kids are "brilliant" or any such nonsense, as some seem to think, just normal).

Their parents help them and they seem to learn naturally and painlessly.

And I don't worry about reading tests because I know my children can read.

Surely teachers and parents know by the first, second, and third grades whether or not children can READ.

This just seems so fundamental to me that I just don't understand why the tests are even necessary.

But they are because someone (or everyone) is failing to teach these kids.

Parents and teachers should already KNOW that they are having problems.

And DO SOMETHING about it.

And since they haven't, then we have all these so-called "high stakes" tests.

But aren't the "stakes" of growing up illiterate even higher?

Not everyone is going to make the basketball team or get that sports scholarship.

Shamash said...

Anon 8pm.

Exactly right.

Where are the damned parents?

The teachers only have the kids for a short time.

Asking kids to know numbers and letters by the beginning of school is a rather low bar in my opinion.

Even my mother (a HS dropout with 5 kids and two part-time jobs) managed to teach me that much decades ago.

I mean seriously. It's not like there is a shortage of material today, either.

Just pop your kid down in front of ETV and they'll learn phonics and the alphabet and how to count.

You have to practically shut your kid in a closet to keep them from learning this much today.

Anonymous said...

One thing I see missing from this discussion is the impact of dyslexia. "Ten to fifteen percent of the US population has dyslexia, yet only five out of every one hundred dyslexics are recognized and receive assistance. Approximately 60% of individuals diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorders are also dyslexic, however, their learning and language differences are often unrecognized because only the behavioral aspects of ADHD are addressed. Without the proper diagnosis and help, many of these dyslexics and ADHD individuals are only functionally literate, and are part of the forty-four million adults with only the lowest level of literacy." --Dyslexia Research Institute. In CMS, there seems to be no testing to determine which children have dyslexia, and no trained professionals to help them. Sending these children to "summer camp" will prove nothing--teachers and specialists have helped these children but to no avail. When will the school system create better support systems to identify and help those who cannot read because of disabilities, instead of blaming teachers?

Anonymous said...

8:46 AM
Unfortunately late to the conversation:

As the mother of a dyslexic son, I would like to thank you for your comment.

Alicia Durand
Pending licensed K-6 classroom teacher