Reading scores reminder of need to help poor students

The drop in N.C. reading scores this year was hardly a surprise. State and local education officials had warned that scores would be lower after a new reading test was introduced last year.

That new reading test was necessary. The old one was largely a scam, falsely labeling too many children with weak reading skills as making the grade.

But the fallout from addressing that problem stings nonetheless. Just 57 percent of the students in grades 3-8 passed the state's reading tests this year; 86 percent did last year using the old tests. All student groups showed lower passing rates: 69 percent of whites passed, 68 percent of Asians, 39 percent of Hispanics and 36 percent of blacks. The disparity between the performance of low-income students and non-poor students was huge: 39 percent versus 71 percent passing.

In Charlotte-Mecklenburg, just 56 percent of students made passing scores on the new reading tests, compared with 85 percent last year. But that's the same rate as reached by KIPP Charlotte, a new branch of a national charter school that's had success with low-income, low-performing students. That shows how difficult addressing these problems can be.

June Atkinson, the state superintendent of public instruction, said the gap highlights the continuing need for early childhood education programs.

It does. But as in the case of CMS it also highlights the need for continuous efforts and resources after pre-kindergarten and kindergarten. Especially needed are more effective teachers and principals at schools with high concentrations of poor and minority students. These students come to school with more challenges and need intensive help to reach and maintain higher academic performance.

CMS Superintendent Peter Gorman is right to keep pushing for those resources, and providing incentives to lure the best personnel to the students who need help the most. But N.C. education officials are also right to keep academic standards high to ensure that students are actually learning what they must to compete and succeed.