9 Investigates: NC third-graders continue to fail reading exam despite state efforts

9 Investigates: NC third-graders continue to fail reading exam despite state efforts

MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C. — Thousands of local children are failing mandatory reading exams despite statewide efforts to help them improve their scores.

Six years ago, North Carolina leaders created Read to Achieve, a program to help boost third-graders' performance in reading.

[Study: No gains for North Carolina 3rd grade literacy effort]

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Channel 9 learned that reading performance has only gotten worse under the program.

Anthony Thomas, an elementary school student in Union County, is improving his reading skills.

But his mother, Tonya Thomas, said Anthony struggled with his third-grade reading assignments and with the state's end-of-grade reading exam, or EOG.

"As soon as he knows it has anything to do with the EOG, he shuts down,” Thomas said. “He does not like tests. They told him, ‘If you don't pass it, you can be held back,’ and it put more pressure on him and he does not do well with pressure."

Since 2012, third-graders in North Carolina have been required to take the end-of-grade test to prove reading proficiency before moving on to fourth grade.

Kristen Beach, an assistant professor of special education in the department of special education and child development at UNC Charlotte, said that studies show students who don't read well by third grade could be in trouble.

“Grade-level reading by the end of third grade is very predictive of success later in schooling,” Beach said.

Data shows large numbers of third-graders in Charlotte and statewide still are not performing well.

Last school year, 44 percent of North Carolina third-graders failed the reading EOG. Within Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, the results were nearly identical, at 43.9 percent.

In Union County, 32.5 percent of third-graders failed the EOG, as did 48 percent in Gaston County and 52.8 percent in Rowan County.

“Having a proportion of students not proficient on EOGs, and those scores not rising year after year, is not a unique situation to Charlotte,” Beach said.

Beach is conducting research on what’s known as the “summer slide,” when children don't read during the summer and fall behind their classmates.

“If students are not engaging in reading, then many of them will experience a plateau or decline in skills,” Beach said.

Parents, including Thomas, said the EOG exam is part of the problem.

“When you're putting that much pressure on a 10-year-old child, it doesn't work,” Thomas said.

State Sen. Jeff Tarte agrees.

“What we're doing is adding massive stress levels to these kids,” Tarte said. “When you add stress, it leads to lower performance. So, a lot of these kids are probably proficient, but the way we're testing them is reducing their scores, not reflective of their actual skill set.”

Tarte said he wants to change the test and the way schools teach reading.

"Kids, as well as adults, learn differently," Tarte said. "We need to have different modes of how we teach."

Those are changes Thomas hopes will give her son the help he needs to succeed.

Tarte, a member of the state education committee, said he talks with his peers about making some of the changes.

Local school districts, including CMS, are working outside the box to change third-grade reading scores.

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