Want Better Third Grade Reading Outcomes? It Starts at Birth, NC Board of Education Members Say

The North Carolina State Board of Education is doing a deep dive into early literacy, and the message from Board members at yesterday’s meeting was loud and clear:  we have to get this right, and to do that, we need to start at birth.

The Board heard three presentations from state leaders and researchers on North Carolina’s current approaches to improving third grade reading outcomes. In addition to asking questions about the presentations, several Board members stressed the importance of starting early—as far back as birth—rather than focusing only on kindergarten through third grade interventions.

To address those earlier strategies and interventions, the Board has invited the NC Early Childhood Foundation to the February board meeting to share information about aligning early childhood systems to improve early literacy outcomes through the Pathways to Grade-Level Reading Initiative, starting at birth. National early literacy experts will also share successes from other states at the February meeting.

Highlights from the three presentations at the January meeting include:

DPI’s Strategic Plan for Literacy

North Carolina’s new K-3 Literacy Director, Dr. Tara Galloway, gave a report on the Department of Public Instruction’s Comprehensive Plan for Reading Achievement. Key next steps for the Department include plans to:

  • Focus on evidence-based practices for delivering effective reading instruction
  • Develop a standard protocol to intervene with struggling readers early
  • Ramp up data analysis in order to implement those interventions effectively
  • Clearly define the core supports that all students need, starting in kindergarten
  • Provide guidance and support to school districts with their summer reading camps
  • Partner with higher education to improve educator preparation on reading instruction
  • Ensure parent engagement

Read to Achieve Evaluation

Dr. Trip Stallings of the Friday Institute at NC State University gave an overview of their recent evaluation of the state’s Read to Achieve program. Key takeaways included:

  • The researchers compared how students who scored just under the proficiency cut-off (and therefore received Read to Achieve services) performed in subsequent years, compared to how students who scored just over the proficiency cut-off performed.
  • Read to Achieve, at least as it was implemented in school districts across the state in 2013-15 (the cohorts followed in the study), did not result in improvements in reading proficiency for those students. While students’ reading proficiency improved overall, students who received services did not improve any more than similar students who did not receive services.
  • Because the study design did not enable researchers to look at students who scored significantly below the proficiency cut-off, the study cannot comment on whether Read to Achieve services resulted in growth for those students.
  • The Friday Institute suggests replicating the study for later cohorts of students, and learning more about how the Read to Achieve legislation is being implemented in the 115 school districts across the state, since implementation impacts outcomes.
  • Stallings echoed Board members’ comments that expanding our investment in literacy development before third grade is critical.

Educator Preparation Advisory Group

Dr. Anthony Graham, co-chair of the UNC System Educator Preparation Advisory Group and Dean of the North Carolina A&T College of Education, shared an update on the implementation of the UNC system’s Leading for Literacy study. Key takeaways included:

  • Leading on Literacy (as reported previously by NCECF) was a review of the 14 UNC system undergraduate teacher preparation programs that license BA recipients. The review’s aim was to learn more about what NC is doing to prepare high quality classroom teachers prepared to teach reading.
  • The report resulted in a number of areas for improvement—opportunities to improve the preparation of candidates in reading instruction, and opportunities for the UNC system to better support the educator preparation programs to accomplish that aim.
  • An Advisory Group was convened in August 2018 to prioritize the recommendations and propose action steps.
  • The Advisory Group is creating communities of practice on various topics for the educator preparation programs to work together on shared issues. The first community of practice has formed on Early Learning and Literacy.