CMS: 71 percent of third-graders have hit reading goal

Almost three-quarters of Charlotte-Mecklenburg third-graders have already proven they can read on grade level, removing some of the pressure created by upcoming state exams, the superintendent said this week.

North Carolina’s new Read to Achieve program mandates that third-graders who aren’t reading on grade level at the end of this year must attend summer reading camp. Those who don’t attend or still fall short on reading must be retained in a combined third-fourth grade class or placed in special classes with extra reading instruction.

Few argue with the program’s premise: It’s essential for children to master reading by third grade. But the specifics of the effort have proven controversial, with some teachers and parents saying the push has spawned too much testing and created intense pressure on 8- and 9-year-olds.

At the start of the school year, it looked like students who failed the End of Grade reading test would face summer school or retention. Based on last year’s pass rates – below 55 percent in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and statewide – almost 6,000 of CMS’ 11,769 third-graders would have been at risk.

But the state approved some alternate routes to demonstrating grade-level skills, including beginning-of-year tests and exams given during the school year.

This week CMS calculated that 71 percent of students have hit that mark, Superintendent Heath Morrison said. But that still leaves about 3,400 children whose fate will be shaped by the year-end reading test.

The state has made it easier to pass in 2014, moving from a four-point scale to a five-point one. Some scores that would have been labeled below grade level, or failing, will now count as adequate for advancement. Third-graders who fail the reading test on the first try will get a second chance.

Meanwhile, local and state officials continue to search for better ways to help children read. Morrison’s budget plan calls for $1.2 million in county money to help first-, second- and third-grade teachers learn better ways to teach reading.

Resistance to Read to Achieve also continues. Mecklenburg ACTS, a group of CMS parents and advocates, is petitioning the legislature to shift its strategy from testing and retention to more support for prekindergarten and reading instruction.

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