Open letter to Sen. Berger on Read to Achieve

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 25, 2014

Angie Miller of Salisbury got no response after she sent this letter to state Sen. Phil Berger a few months ago. With end-of-grade testing coming up this week, she thought this would be a good time to share:

Dear Senator Berger,
An advisory board recently recommended that this year be considered a trial year for Read to Achieve. School districts and parents of third graders throughout North Carolina made the same request. You responded with a definite “no.” I am writing to ask you to reconsider that position.
As the parent of a third grader, I have to say these children have been dealt a bad hand. With the botched implementation of this program, students have been robbed of many hours of instruction due to testing and test prep. Countless parents say that their children have come home frustrated and stressed, and that they have developed negative attitudes towards reading due to Read to Achieve.
Read to Achieve does two things: identifies students who are struggling in reading and forces punitive measures on those children, through summer school and retention. In essence, it punishes children for the failures of adults.
An overwhelming number of studies show that retention (after kindergarten and first grade) has negative effects on students, and is highly correlated with dropping out of school. You posted one study from Brookings that differs, suggesting retention may help some third graders in reading. Did you read the entire report? Because it also stated, “Policies encouraging the retention of students who have not acquired basic reading skills by third grade are no substitute for the development of a comprehensive strategy to reduce the number of struggling readers.” The lack of a comprehensive strategy is a major flaw of Read to Achieve.
This program has provided no help for struggling children at any grade level during the school year. In fact, North Carolina cut teacher assistants and increased class sizes, giving students less chance of receiving extra help by overburdening teachers more than ever. All this was done on top of implementing the Common Core State Standards just last year, forcing students to meet different standards than they were taught during their previous two years of schooling.
You said, “We have tens of thousands of magnificent teachers. I’m not faulting the teachers.” But passing a law that demands higher achievement without offering extra support indicates that you do think that teachers are not working hard enough. Otherwise, how is improvement supposed to occur? Read to Achieve is not a magic wand that is going to get every student who is behind up to par without any other support given to them.
To defend your position you provided an Annie E. Casey Foundation report about the importance of being able to read by the end of third grade. This report and numerous other studies prove that it matters a lot. I don’t think anyone in the state of North Carolina has disagreed with this. But nowhere in the study (or any other study as far as I know) is there indication that reading struggles begin in third grade. The problems begin much earlier, and so should interventions.
Our third graders have suffered enough this year. By continuing Read to Achieve, we are risking children’s futures. It is my sincere hope that you will consider this a trial year. This would give you and our other lawmakers time to remove the damaging strategy of retention and fund the intensive supports that struggling readers need in early years, such as reading specialists working individually with students beginning in kindergarten.
We both want the same thing, Senator Berger. A friend recently reminded me of Gandhi’s words, that “you must be the change you wish to see in the world.” So, I made a commitment to work with the lowest achieving kindergartners at my children’s school every afternoon. I have sacrificed work to make this happen, but I am happy to report the students are making progress. I encourage you to volunteer at an elementary school, and talk with the parents, teachers and principals to help make these important decisions. If everyone works together for the good of our children, Read to Achieve could become a truly revolutionary program that succeeds in helping each student reach his or her full potential.
Best Regards,
Angie Miller
NC mom to:
A 3rd grade avid reader
A Junie B. Jones-loving 1st grader
An ABC song-singing, future reader and preschooler