Would NC Retain Half of its Third Graders?

The North Carolina Early Childhood Foundation has its first op-ed in today’s News and Observer.

It poses the question: Would North Carolina retain more than half of its third-graders – the equivalent of all students in Durham, Orange, Chatham and Lee County schools – at a price tag of more than half of a billion dollars?

Probably not, but it’s a reasonable question. Last week the state released test scores from the 2012-13 school year that showed close to 55 percent of North Carolina students were not proficient in reading at the end of third grade. The results coincide with a new state law that will go into effect for the current school year known as Read to Achieve. It requires that students be retained in third grade if they fail to demonstrate reading proficiency.

Similar laws have been enacted in several states as policymakers react to years of low test scores combined with research that shows reading proficiency by third grade is a predictor of academic achievement, high school graduation and career success. With student performance falling, the achievement gap growing and high stakes testing in place, it is time to call the question: “Why are so many of our children struggling and what can be done about it?”

There is no one answer, but we can start by building on what we have done right in our state and invest in policies and programs that recognize that education is a cumulative process, and that birth to age 8 represents a critical developmental period during which children must have good health, strong families and high quality learning experiences to be most successful in school and life. “Brains are built, not born,” according to neuroscientist Dr. Jack Schonkoff. Children’s earliest experiences determine how their brains are wired. And because brains are built from the bottom up, much like a house, the first eight years set the foundation for all of the years that follow . . .

It concludes . . .

We can be proud of the headway we have made and still recognize that more is needed. We can use this moment in time – a collision of disappointing test scores and high stakes policy – to think differently. Let’s change the question from, “Why are so many children struggling?” to “How can we ensure that every child has the opportunity to succeed?” Test scores will still measure the outcome, but the strategies that will get us there will begin at birth and build throughout children’s first eight years. By focusing on and accelerating what works, and strengthening partnerships across disciplines and traditional organizational boundaries, we can close the achievement gap and raise outcomes for all young children.

There may be no silver bullet, but North Carolina has something greater: A legacy of innovation and success that is more powerful than the problem. 

Read the entire op-ed.