Debate continues over NC school reading comprehension bill

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North Carolina’s effort to improve reading proficiency for early-grade students in the public school system is moving fast through the legislature.

The bill signaled the General Assembly’s hope to give final legislative approval to the “Excellent Schools Act” and send it to Gov. Roy Cooper before the legislature holds a spring recess next week.

The measure seeks to improve upon the 2013 “Read to Achieve” program that was championed by Senate leader Phil Berger but has not lived up to expectations.

“Somewhere around 40% of our third graders are not reading at grade level, and that 40% generally will represent a large number of those kids who will end up dropping out of school or underperforming,” Berger said.

Berger believes summer reading camps for students who are behind in reading proficiency and small group settings for struggling readers could be beneficial.

Senate Bill 387, also known as the “Excellent Schools Act,” would train teachers on how to improve students’ reading skills before they get to the third grade.

Students would receive individualized improvement plans. Teachers could also earn bonuses for successful reading instruction outcomes. More online reading resources would also be available for parents.

“A significant amount of money that will go over the next two years for training our teachers, our educators,” Berger said. “Much of the money is already in the educational budget. The ‘Read to Achieve’ program has almost a total of $60 million on a recurring basis that’s dedicated to reading issues, so some of that money will be repurposed to deal with this. But a good bit of the money is going to be utilized from the federal COVID relief packages.”

The system would follow “the Science of Reading” in which phonics is a primary element, showing the importance of sounds and spelling.

But some local educators fear the bill is moving too fast without solving some issues being faced by school leaders.

“We know that when you teach reading with younger children, you need to teach them in smaller groups for them to retain the information,” said Val Young, president of the Forsyth Association of Education. “That’s what the bill does not address.”

Young also believes that to know what’s best for the kids, those closer to children need to have a stronger presence.

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