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Read and weep about the state's reading program

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Ayden Middle School sixth-graders sample different books in the media center during a “Progressive Book Tasting” to expand their reading tastes.

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Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Children in North Carolina aren’t learning to read fast enough or well enough. The state has invested millions. Hands are wringing, and heads are hitting hard against the wall. “Success” can’t be claimed if a third-grader can’t read the word and know what it means.

And so the $150 million the state spent on its Read to Achieve program is being bemoaned as a huge failure and waste of state revenue.

Implemented by the General Assembly in 2012 on the model of “Just Read, Florida,” which then-Gov. Jeb Bush introduced in Florida in 2012, Read to Achieve was designed to ensure students didn’t advance through grade levels without being able to comprehend material. Its goal was that students would not be promoted for being well-behaved when they were anything but well-read.

But read these results: Since the program began, the percentage of third- and fourth-graders who passed state reading exams either was flat or declined. Follow-up research suggests that no particular effort is proving successful. State educators aren’t giving up, but you can bet that legislators — who direct funds to these programs — will be reading these tea leaves and looking for a new future.

“We will continue to use data-driven analyses, including feedback from class room teachers, to drive changes,” state Superintendent Mark Johnson said in a release last week.

“We have an obligation to these students to act with urgency and pursue innovative strategies to ensure every child can read well by the end of third grade.”

There is much to be done, and there needs to be no absence of focus. N.C. State has invested $28 million through its Wolfpack Works for a grant program designed to improve the skill of teaching reading, The News & Observer in Raleigh reported. The Guilford County Board of Education just last year approved $2 million for reading programs to address the decline by third-graders.

More research is being done, as Johnson suggests, and more programs for first- and second-graders might be helpful. But frankly that might be too late. If a child’s life doesn’t include reading by his or her pre-K years, if books can’t be brought to life and the reinforcement of effort for reward isn’t taught, then the goal already is out of sight.

That experts suggest failure to read adequately by third grade endangers the ability to absorb curricula should underscore how deep this foundation must be poured.

The fact is that it’s difficult to teach a child to read, no matter the talents of the teacher or the student, when reading is so devalued in society. Literacy is a far cry from what it was before electronic media began to steal time and diminish the commitment to subjects, verbs and adjectives as a vital process.

Too many parents don’t read for their own edification, so by example children don’t learn the habit. Even more parents don’t have time to read to or with their children, either. Without Winnie the Pooh at bedtime, you may have bare readers in the classroom.

We fear that the literacy of our students may take an even more troubling turn.

Have you noticed how young people prefer to communicate through text messages that are highlighted with emojis, the hieroglyphics of today, in place of actual words? Could this mean that dialogue will follow reading into a verbal winter? Will generations of the future use thoughts to communicate without a word being spoken?

Maybe so, but frighteningly few will read about it.

The News & Record of Greensboro

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Children in North Carolina aren’t learning to read fast enough or well enough. The state has invested millions. Hands are wringing, and heads are hitting hard against the wall. “Success” can’t be claimed if a third-grader can’t read the word and know what it means.

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