Friday, January 24, 2014

Read to Achieve-described as "torture," "a nightmare" and "3rd grade hell"

Update: A call to action-please contact these legislators and officials with any concerns
I am starting this blog because I have concerns about NC's Read to Achieve Program.  I believe it is potentially harmful to our children.  I have many issues with this program, but my major ones are:
1.  The amount of learning time being stolen from NC's 3rd graders for testing.
2.  The negative impact on children's desire to read and learn that will result from the unreasonable amount of testing and pressure.
3.  The decision for a student to be retained should be reached by the parents, teachers, and administrators who know the child and how they are performing. The idea of legislating achievement through testing is ridiculous.

I pulled together the information I found about RtA and posted it below to try and get the word out to parents of 3rd graders.  Below are the articles I have found so far.  Parents, guardians, teachers, please let me know if you find anything I can add.

An explanation of Read to Achieve is lengthy and confusing, but I'll try to summarize.  It is part of a new NC state law.  It requires 3rd graders to pass the EOG (End of Grade) test (only about half of last year's 3rd graders passed the EOG).  If they don't, they get one more chance at another test.  If that is also failed, they are required to attend 6 weeks of summer school.  If they don't attend (or don't pass) summer school, they are basically retained and not promoted to 4th grade.  There is another option to these high stakes tests, though.  Students can get an exemption if they pass a portfolio.  For the portfolio, students have to pass a minimum of 36 tests over a 12 week period. Some lawmakers and the DPI are trying to minimize concerns about the amount of instructional time that will be spent on testing, saying only the students at risk of failing the EOG should do the portfolio.  But according to the Beginning of Year test 3rd graders took, that is 77% of our students.  Many districts are going ahead and giving the portfolio assessments to all students so they have a backup if a child were to not pass those 2 high stakes tests (and who can blame them?).

Wake County Article
“This seems like torture to a struggling reader,” school board member Jim Martin said.
The portfolios are meant for students who are considered to be at risk of failing the end-of-grade exam. But school officials said they don’t want to run the risk of missing students who might fail.
“We’re covering our bases, regrettably, with this truckload of a portfolio,” Superintendent Jim Merrill told the board.(I would like to note 36 would be the minimum number to complete the portfolio.  If a student misses more than 1 question on any given test, she/he would have to take another one on that standard.) Diane Ravitch's Blog Post"The time spent on testing is time that should be spent reading, writing, listening, and learning. As the old chestnut goes, you don’t fatten a pig by weighing it."

Read more here:
Rowan-Salisbury's Concerns
“I want a stay in Read to Achieve for the current year because the readability level of the selections that I have seen are not appropriate,” said board member Susan Cox.

"Only one passage selected was on a third-grade reading level. Six of the passages were between a fifth- and ninth-grade reading level." (Mooresville schools tested 10 out of the 120 passages and this is what they found)

Cox said administering assessments that are beyond the reading level they are assessing is counterproductive. The assessments put students and teachers under unnecessary pressure.
“We’re saying to our students: ‘You’re not measuring up. You’re failing,’ when in essence, it isn’t the student—it’s the assessment in and of itself,” Cox said.
Kannapolis School board asks for waiver for Read to Achieve
Some of the alarming information in these articles:
"In addition, the Read to Achieve program is time consuming. According to the Board of Education’s calculations, implementation will take 180 minutes a week, which means teachers will lose 2820 minutes of reading instruction a semester. That adds up to 30 percent of a semester’s total instruction time." (Note:  I believe they are including other required testing, such as Reading 3D in that number)
"The board also feels the summer reading camps were poorly planned."
“Our goal is to teach our kids to read, not to assess them so much that it takes time away from teaching them to read,” said Valerie Truesdale, CMS’ chief learning services officer.
Board member Rhonda Lennon was more blunt, citing the adage that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
“This looks like third-grade hell to me,” she said, calling the program “a heavy-handed mandate.”
“It’s really a nightmare,” Ashe County Schools Director of testing and accountability Phil Howell said of the new third-grade reading program. “It’s an injustice, but it’s also state law, and (the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction) was given a directive and they have to carry it out.”
“What happens is if you’re the best reader in the class, you’re still going to miss 36 days of reading instruction,” Blackburn said. “And if you luck up and pass the first time, you’re still missing out on 36 opportunities that you could have had to be in front of a great teacher and had instruction. It’s not a good thing for kids.”
And by asking only five questions, Westwood Elementary School Principal Jennifer Robinson said the test reduces the margin of error for students.
“You have to get four correct,” Robinson said. “I have a third grader that I feel is a pretty good reader and on any given night I feel she could miss more than one question. You might think, oh, we have this portfolio and I’m so glad we’re doing it, but if you can’t read enough to pass that (EOG), it’s going to be real hard to pass that portfolio.”
"Late last week,  Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools learned that students who scored at third-grade level on that test will be eligible for promotion without having to worry about the barrage of tests they encounter during the rest of the year"  (Note: This is referring to the BOG, Beginning of Year test 3rd grades took. According to one of the articles above, 77% of students were at risk of not passing the EOG according to the BOG.  So, an overwhelming majority of 3rd graders would still be on track to take the portfolio assessments) I haven't found this information anywhere else and would like to know if this is true statewide.  Update: This has been confirmed. Please see comments below and this post for more information.

Article describing a parent meeting at one school 
“The portfolio requires your child to read up to 120 reading passages…(They) have the potential to lose 20 percent of instruction to complete their reading portfolio,” Brinson said.
Even then, there is still no guarantee that they will pass or demonstrate proficiency, she added.

“I can’t tell you what to check, but if my child were in third-grade, it would be a big ‘no’ because I want my child taught, not tested all day,” Wolf Meadow Principal Adam Auerbach said to the parents.
Auerbach added later that his goal is to get every parent to opt out of the portfolio.
“The kids that are doing well don’t need to do the portfolio,” Auerbach said. “If (they are) not (doing well), they’re not going to pass.”

I emailed my local representative, Harry Warren, earlier this week.  He also expressed concerns about Read to Achieve.  He has been told by DPI, "going forward, local LEAs have the opportunity to develop their own modifications which they can utilize, upon DPI approval."  These are supposed to be modifications to the portfolio.  I haven't found this information anywhere else and wanted to include it.  Students are already taking the tests for the portfolios (they had to go ahead and start to fit it in before EOGs), so learning time is already being lost.  The longer the state takes to make changes or end this insanity altogether is just more learning time lost and frustration for our children.

Update:  Click here to join Facebook group: NC Parents and Teachers against Read to Achieve Legislation

Read more here:


  1. Here is additional information I have learned. Some districts have given parents the option as to whether their child will complete a portfolio. The Independent Tribune printed an article where the principal at Wolf Meadow would check the "no" box if he had a child in 3rd grade. Our district did not give parents the option. I still wrote a letter and stated my child will not participate in the Read to Achieve tests. For students that pass the Read to Achieve passages, they should be exempt from completing the EOG. They should not have to do both. It is entirely too much testing but do not be afraid to stand up for your child.

    1. Thank you! I found that article and am adding it to this post. I may do the same and ask for my child to opt out of testing. That still leaves us with the larger problem of all the lost instructional time. I feel so bad for all NC teachers, but for 3rd grade teachers most of all!

  2. As everyone is trying to figure out what in the world to do with this nightmare, the third graders are the real losers.

  3. At our school we were given the option to not test for the portfolio. But we were also given a warning/explanation that should our child not pass the EOG, there would be nothing we could do and the child would be retained. Basically we were almost forced to test. My child is reading above where he should be by the school's standards. However he's not the best test taker. He doesn't love to read but now he resents any reading.
    I questioned the 3rd grade chair teacher at our school about why the children have grades and report cards because the grades do no good. They are of no value in the school's process. I was told that the grades and report cards are of no value since it only matters if the students pass the reading EOG. I was told the students can fail the math EOG and still be promoted to 4th grade. It all makes no sense!

    1. "He doesn't love to read but now he resents any reading." This is exactly what first alarmed me when I sat in the parent meeting at our school. I am so afraid NC is going to turn an entire generation away from reading. That made me start digging in to find out more and as you say, none of it makes sense. Please contact your legislators. They need to understand how this is affecting our children. While I'm sure they intended this as a positive, we are only seeing negatives. They are obviously not educators, so we need to educate them that this is not working. I truly appreciate you sharing your story!

  4. The information about students being exempt from the Read to Achieve passages if they made at or above a certain score (442) on the Beginning of Grade 3 test is accurate. It was a VERY late addition to the process, as in last week. I also wouldn't be surprised to see more late changes as there is a lot of pressure being put on DPI and the NCGA by state superintendents. However, even if a student made at/above 442 or not, they still have to take the EOG so that the state can get a more accurate growth measure for the teacher.

    1. Thank you for confirming about the BoG test, Greg. I hope you are right about changes, and that they are positive changes.

    2. Well, Angie, I'm positive about the 442 change. You should have seen the looks on folks faces when we were discussing it, especially mine. I was going back through my notes trying to figure out where I had missed that part when they told me that it was a new addition. :)

    3. I see that as a positive change as well. I don't think it does enough to address the overall concerns about Read to Achieve. We are still left with huge losses of instructional time for up to 77% of students that didn't pass the BOG. We are still left damaging students by testing them on material that appears to be above their grade level. I honestly feel like our schools are being sabotaged with this legislation. Please let me know if you find out about any other changes by posting here or emailing me at amiller123@hotmailDOTcom. Thank you again!

  5. When my daughter, Alexandra, a third grader broke down in the car this afternoon because she was so upset about her "state tests" she has to take tomorrow, I did everything I could to calm her down. I ensured her that she was prepared to take the test. My daughter is consistently performing well above her grade level in all areas. As the tears streamed down her face, I thought to myself, "What would I advise my high school students to do if they were upset about policy???" I would encourage them to be active in their communities and to not complain without a solution. So, this is what I proposed to her....she wanted to write a letter to you...
    Dear Governor:
    I just wanted to say that I'm really stressed out about all my tests. I would love to sit down and talk about the tests. My Mom and I have talked and I feel a lot better about them but I am concerned about my classmates that do not have the same support that I have at home. My teachers, Mrs. Kennedy, Mrs. Hamm, Mrs. Weaver, Mrs. Mizerak, and Mrs. Miller, have been a great support to everyone in third grade. This is the first year that we have had a state test and it just seems like too much all at once. We had three state tests last Friday and I have three this week. My teachers say that I will have 3 every week until the end of school. This is just so stressful. Would you consider decreasing the number of tests that we have to have per week? Thank you for taking time to read this.
    Alexandra Vestal
    Third grade student
    Sparta Elementary School

    Sadly, no one ever responded to her. She sent this letter each day for seven days in a row. This speaks volumes to me as a tax payer and a voter.

    1. Alexandra's letter was wonderful. It is so disappointing that noone responded to her. I am hoping there will be power in numbers and as more students, parents, and teachers speak up like Alexandra did, that there will be changes. Melissa, thank you so much for sharing this. Alexandra, please keep reading books you love for fun. You did a super good thing in speaking up for yourself and your classmates!

  6. My child has a learning disability that profoundly affects his learning process. I never realized thata child's ability to focus could affect them to the point of struggling to write a simple sentence and to understand basic information that is read much less being able to read into meanings of passages and having enough "worldly experiences" for him to remotely try to pass one of these 5 question nightmares that only afford your child the opportunity to miss only one question or they have once again failed at something to the point that I worry as a mom that by the end of the third grade that he will have failed so many times that before long he won't try because what would be the point if I am only going to be told that I am a failure again and after seven more years of struggling that by the time he is 16 he will throw in the towel and just become another statistic. (By the way I did consider a career in education when I was in college but I am now glad that I did not pursue it). My child has one of those magic plans called an IEP but my school says that he has to meet the same standard of a child that is considered to be "gifted" and has an extraordinary grasp of understanding for their grade and that my child has to meet this same global advanced education level to keep up with other countries in the future instead of teaching them what they need to know to be productive members of society when they grow up. Let's face it they are still kids who are being expected to perform like a well trained animal at the circus instead of letting them be kids and teaching them to find what they excellent at and teaching them and equipping them to be successful in anything that they choose as a career when they grow up.
    Fortunately for children like mine who do have an IEP (by the law this means that they are disabled) the legislature has already decided that by next year they will give my child a voucher for $6000 to spend on a private school - however with schools that meet the needs of children like mine having a tuition of around $20,000 I am pretty sure that eventually the tax payers will eventually be paying for the students who they are not provided a free and appropriate public education within their local school to attend facilities such as these across the state. So I just keep praying that my child won't get too discouraged by the end of the year and we can look at different avenues of education for him but I am very concerned about that because he has already been telling me how stupid that he is and again I do fear that his success in life could be drastically affected by the expectations that are being placed on him instead of simply teaching the children during the week.
    By the way we have been explained that they are going to be given 10 of these tests for each of the twelve standards or at least until the child can pass 3 on each standard so if a child is extremely smart then they will only have to take 36 tests but if the child struggles with comprehension skills then it may take the child taking all 10 before they successfully complete three of one standard and if they continue this pattern the entire portfolio then they will have taken 120 tests total and even then on the last standard if the child only passes 2 of the 10 tests they will still have failed and probably will be retained (unless they pass the EOG or give up most of their summer - including any family vacations to be promoted by some miracle) and yippee we get to repeat third grade and do this again!!!! :( Won't that be a big morale booster to get the kids excited about staying in school!!!!

    1. Oh my--I am extremely concerned that you are the 2nd person today who has a special needs child who is taking the portfolio tests! Please see my comment to that mom under this post:

      I hope you will contact your school's principal and, if needed, your local school board. This program is so misguided and confusing, it seems the schools aren't sure what to do.

      You have so many good points--I appreciate you taking the time to comment. I would love to know what happens with your son. I sincerely hope you are able to get the testing stopped for him immediately.

    2. Unfortunately I have a small school that thinks that they can do things differently than other schools and I have spoken to my principal about another issue regarding my child's IEP that includes a line item for the provision of a study guide for reading books (done in the classroom) at which time I politely showed her the illegible and unclear notes taken by another student that were given to us the day before the weekly test to which I received a rather blunt email from the language arts teacher that stated that she would be sending home the page numbers for us to look up the answers ourselves in lieu of the documents sent home so I really have no faith in speaking with the principal again regarding my child for fear of retaliation by the teacher (so far the reading books have not started back up since Christmas break so I can't address this as a violation of his rights at this point however I can only offer them a little more rope to help them hang themselves with to allow them to be the responsible party to provide payment to a school for special needs for my child if they can't abide by the laws that were written to protect these children - fortunately I have a dear friend that understands the law very well because she works for another school system or I could not be the advocate for my child as well as I am - for the record at one of our IEP meetings this school year my LEA did not even know what ECAC was - I found this very disturbing that these are the professionals in charge of my child's learning)
      I am going to keep taking good notes regarding the things that we are told and before long we will have another IEP meeting and further discuss their ignorance of the laws and eventually we will invite DPI for one of these IEP meetings (or as I like to call them our come to Jesus meetings - let me be your guide) with a lawyer present if needed and either way I think at that time perhaps they can begin to see the error of their ways and then we can begin to see a change.

    3. I wish you all the best and am glad you have someone to help you navigate. I would still recommend contacting your local district, saying your child already has a "good cause exemption" and doesn't need to attempt to qualify for another one. I honestly don't think most schools and districts are fans of this portfolio. They are stuck between a rock and a hard place with regular ed students. I am so sorry that your school is putting your child through it.

  7. I am a doctoral student doing my dissertation on reading in NC. Thanks for all the information from parents ho are struggling with the current laws. I am really interested in studying the difference volunteers make as reading tutors, trying to help out with our current needs.

    1. That sounds interesting! Best wishes as you complete your dissertation!

  8. Read to Achieve has made 3rd grade one big test grade and is so stressful for both students and teachers. I am a teacher (But I teach 2nd). My very first students that I had last year are now suffering through this joke of legislation. I can't believe the amount of time learning time that they are losing due to all of this testing. The amount of learning and intervention time that is being taken away is astronomical (in my opinion) and if students fail it's not on the fault of the parents, or the teachers, or the students- it's the fault of this legislation.

    1. I know I mostly mention the negative effects of this on students, but I realize it is a huge burden for their teachers as well. Thank you for being a teacher in NC!