Politics & Government

Senators are acting on 3 education bills affecting testing, reading and teacher shortages

New education bill aims to have more 3rd-graders reading at grade level

Senate leader Phil Berger announces legislation designed to get more children reading at grade level by the end of 3rd grade. Reading performance for 3rd-grade students has actually dropped since the Read To Achieve program was launched in 2012.
Up Next
Senate leader Phil Berger announces legislation designed to get more children reading at grade level by the end of 3rd grade. Reading performance for 3rd-grade students has actually dropped since the Read To Achieve program was launched in 2012.

Senate leader Phil Berger acknowledged “some disappointments” in an effort to improve reading among elementary-school children, but asked senators to move ahead with that program in a modified form.

Proposed legislation overhauling the Read To Achieve program was among several bills backed Wednesday by the state Senate Education Committee with no opposition. Others deal with encouraging retired teachers to return and reducing the number of tests given to students.

The changes for retired teachers and Read To Achieve, the state’s program for trying to get students reading by the end of third grade, are both sponsored by Berger. He made a rare appearance at the Education Committee on Wednesday to lobby for his legislation.

The bills will go to other committees before being voted on by the full Senate.

‘Make corrections’ to Read To Achieve

The Excellent Public Schools Act of 2019 comes after passing rates on the state’s third-grade end-of-grade reading exam have declined despite the state spending at least $150 million on Read To Achieve since 2012.

“There have been, I might as well acknowledge it, some disappointments as far as what we’ve seen in terms of outcomes,” said Berger, a Rockingham County Republican. “But the key thing is we recognize that and are trying to make corrections.”

The Education Committee backed the act, also known as Senate Bill 438, which makes changes such as:

Requiring K-3 teachers to develop individual reading plans for students who are not reading at grade level;

The state Department of Public Instruction developing a Digital Children’s Reading Initiative so parents can find resources online to help their children read;

DPI developing a model curriculum, based on what some districts say is working, that can be used statewide;

Revising training standards for teachers to promote early childhood literacy;

Requiring school districts to get approval from DPI for their summer reading camp plans.

Encouraging retired teachers to return

Senate Bill 399 encourages retired teachers to work in high-needs public schools.

The bill would let retired teachers work at Title I schools or schools that receive a D or F grade under the state’s school performance system without it hurting their retirement benefits. Teachers could earn $35,000 to $40,000 a year and still collect their current pensions.

A change made on Wednesday by the Education Committee would allow retired teachers to receive a salary supplement from their local school district.

“We all acknowledge that we have a serious teacher shortage in parts of our state in many school districts,” said Sen. Rick Horner, a Wilson Republican and one of the bill’s primary sponsors. “When we pass this bill it will have an immediate effect in the coming year.”

Reduce testing to ‘let teachers teach’

Senate Bill 621 is the Senate’s proposal to respond to concerns that North Carolina public school students are overtested. The House has passed its own bill to reduce testing.

The bill backed by the Education Committee eliminates the N.C. Final Exams. These state tests are given to students of teachers who don’t have results from the end-of-grade and end-of-course exams that can be used to evaluate their performance.

The bill also includes a provision requiring local school districts to determine how many hours their students spend on local standardized tests. If it’s more than the time spent on state exams, they’re to come up with a plan to reduce the amount of local testing.

“We have a lot of test paranoia out there right now,” said Sen. Jerry Tillman, an Archdale Republican and one of the bill’s primary sponsors. “We’re trying to simplify this. Let teachers teach rather than try to teach to the test.”

Related stories from Durham Herald Sun

  Comments