News: CJ Exclusives

‘Read to Achieve’ gets a legislative reboot

In 2013, North Carolina launched “Read To Achieve, which was supposed to help lagging kids reach literacy by third grade. Six years and $150 million later, the state has seen little success.

Republican legislators are ready to try again.

On April 1, Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, a supporter of RTA, introduced Senate Bill 438, “Excellent Public Schools Act of 2019.”

“There is a lot to this bill,” Berger said during a Monday news conference. “The overarching theme is this: Read To Achieve is working well in some places, and needs adjustments in others. We want the best policies that put North Carolina students in a position to succeed. If some things need fixing, let’s fix them. And if some things are working well, then let’s replicate those.”

The bill, among other things, would mandate “individual reading plans,” requiring teachers to set goals for struggling students, and to communicate needs and strategies to parents.

S.B. 438 also would boost literacy training for teachers, emphasize data collection, and provide parents with digital resources to aid their child’s learning.

Some of the bill’s items are new. Others are not.

S.B. 438 continues the RTA program’s summer reading camps. Some digital resources are reportedly already available to children and families through N.C. Reads, a literacy program branded and promoted by N.C. Superintendent of Public Instruction Mark Johnson.

N.C. Reads is a supplement to RTA and hosts a website of information for parents of challenged students. But when Carolina Journal browsed the materials, it found the site was missing information and appeared to host unresponsive or broken links.

A website from the Department of Public Instruction asks viewers to click a map which isn’t included. (Screenshot of DPI website)

CJ asked the Department of Public Instruction why the site wasn’t working. DPI spokesman Drew Elliot apologized for the missing information and said the links were responsive on his browser. Officials are looking into the issues, he said.

RTA is largely a disappointment, a 2018 study from N.C. State University and the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation concluded.

Students who were exposed to the program between 2013 and 2015 showed no improvement in reading mastery “when compared to similar students who were not identified for the program,” the university’s analysis states.

There is a disconnect between some of RTA’s policies and actual operations on the district- and school-level, Trip Stallings, director of policy research at the Friday Institute, said in a news release. Those might account for the disappointing outcomes, he said.

Other states have enacted successful literacy efforts similar to those in S.B. 438, said Berger. The Senate leader said he is optimistic the state can improve RTA if lawmakers take notes on how to improve.

“Kudos to lawmakers for recognizing that the Read to Achieve early literacy initiative was not working for many children throughout the state.  It will take years to determine if the measures proposed by the Excellent Public Schools Act of 2019 will raise student achievement in reading, but I believe that it is a step in the right direction,” said Terry Stoops, director of research and education studies at the John Locke Foundation.