There are reports that prisons use third grade reading scores to predict how many beds they will need. While this little factoid is not true, "there is a connection between literacy rates, high school dropout rates, and crime."
Hence the Read to Achieve Law passed by North Carolina in 2012.
The law essentially states that 3rd graders must pass the End of Grade Reading test (EOG) in order to move on to 4th grade.
Students get two chances to pass the EOG test at the end of the year. If they fail twice, parents can request that the student take the "Read to Achieve" test. They also get the chance to build a portfolio comprised of 36 tests developed by the NC Department of Public instruction around 12 reading standards, Reading 3D reports and a Personal Education Plan if the student has one. Students have 8 chances to pass 3 tests on each of the 12 standards. If they do not pass a standard, they cannot complete the portfolio.
If students pass those tests, they can be promoted. If all of that fails, they are required to go to summer school, or summer "camp" as our district is calling it, where they will take the "Read to Achieve" test again at the end and continue to work on passing the portfolio. If they STILL fail the portfolio or the test, they go to a 4th grade classroom with a 3rd grade retention marker on their file. The student will learn 4th grade material and be given intensive help with reading. They will take the test again in November. If the student still doesn't pass, they continue to receive help and take the 4th grade EOG test at the end of the year. Whether or not they pass that test, the school can then decide whether to retain the student or send them on to 5th grade.
Obviously students have many opportunities to pass the test and many measures are being put in place to help all students pass and learn to read. That's a good thing.
The problem I have is that the ability to read is being solely equated with passing multiple choice tests. There is so much more to reading than that. There is nothing here about love of story and love of books and information. There is nothing here about reading for the sheer joy of learning something new. Much more emphasis is being put on teaching students to pass a test than actually teaching them to read and be life long readers. While I think having a portfolio is a huge step in the right direction in this process, I'd like to see more project-based work that allowed students to show what they know at an individual level. I want to see how students perform when they are engaged with texts that are interesting and important to them. All of the testing equates students to widgets on the factory assembly line. A project based portfolio would be more expensive and time consuming to assess, but don't our students deserve that time and investment?