North Carolina’s Read to Achieve initiative, the state program supporting reading mastery for all third-grade students, appears to have had no effect on reading scores for the first two cohorts of students exposed to the program, according to research and analysis conducted by North Carolina State University.
Read to Achieve legislation was passed in North Carolina in 2012 and implemented for the first time in the 2013-14 school year. An effort to boost the reading achievement of elementary-school students, it attempts to replace social promotion based on age with an emphasis on demonstrated proficiency in reading. Research shows that reading at grade level in third grade is an important factor in continued school success.
But students exposed to the program in the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years showed no significant differences in reading mastery when compared to similar students who were not identified for the program.
“For these first two cohorts of students, there is no evidence – either one or two years after receiving Read to Achieve services – that they performed better on reading tests than did similar students who did not receive additional services,” said Trip Stallings, director of policy research at NC State’s Friday Institute for Educational Innovation.
Stallings cautions that the analyses were performed at the state level and may not reflect localized successes for individual districts or schools.
Disconnects between some of the Read to Achieve policy guidelines and district- and school-level implementation challenges across the state may be important factors in the flat outcomes, Stallings said.
“The policy, admirably, allows for some local flexibility in terms of how the intervention is implemented in the fourth grade for students who did not achieve reading mastery in third grade,” he said. “But that means that there are notable differences in implementation across districts, and sometimes even within districts. In the end, we may be looking at 115 different iterations of a single policy.”
The report notes that additional resources – both financial and human – may help overcome some of the localized implementation challenges. It also calls for identifying and scaling up local-level implementations that have shown success. Finally, the report suggests shifting focus to intensive and consistent reading interventions starting well before third grade.
“We think the policy is well-intended and the various implementations have children’s best interests in mind,” Stallings said. But results from the first years of the policy suggest that “the current approach is probably not the best one for improving early grade reading statewide. Our analyses suggest that we need to rethink how we help students achieve reading mastery.”
– kulikowski –