An expensive boondoggle, by any other name:
The state has put more than $150 million into the program to date, and a study last year by North Carolina State University found no gains for the first year of students involved.
"Teaching children to read well is a critical goal for their future success, but recent evaluations show that Read to Achieve is ineffective and costly," Cooper said in his veto message. "This legislation tries to put a Band-Aid on a program where implementation has clearly failed."
It has failed. Not "performed below our expectations," but failed, miserably. NC State followed two separate cohorts of students who took part in the RtA program, and detected virtually no improvement with them as compared to those who did not take part:
“For these first two cohorts of students, there is no evidence – either one or two years after receiving Read to Achieve services – that they performed better on reading tests than did similar students who did not receive additional services,” said Trip Stallings, director of policy research at NC State’s Friday Institute for Educational Innovation.
Stallings cautions that the analyses were performed at the state level and may not reflect localized successes for individual districts or schools.
Disconnects between some of the Read to Achieve policy guidelines and district- and school-level implementation challenges across the state may be important factors in the flat outcomes, Stallings said.
“The policy, admirably, allows for some local flexibility in terms of how the intervention is implemented in the fourth grade for students who did not achieve reading mastery in third grade,” he said. “But that means that there are notable differences in implementation across districts, and sometimes even within districts. In the end, we may be looking at 115 different iterations of a single policy.”
I know there are many (well-meaning) advocates for education that don't believe in "standardized" processes; but if you're going to intervene from the state level, a uniform process is critical. Without that, you have no way to know if it's working or not. Unless somebody like NC State steps in and does all the leg(?) work.
Drilling deeper, one of the key aspects of RtA are what's called "Reading Camps," which is kind of a fancy way of describing Summer School. Which we already had. but the implementation of these Reading Camps appears to be all over the map. From the research paper itself:
One of the interesting features of the program is that a key component—participating in reading camp between the 3rd and 4th grade years—is not mandatory. As a result, each year, a large proportion of students who are eligible for RtA services are not exposed to one of the major interventions.
This weakness is most readily apparent in the guidelines that require placement of students who attend reading camps with “licensed teachers selected based on demonstrated student outcomes in reading proficiency or in improvement of difficulties with reading development,” and placement of students who are retained with “a teacher selected based on demonstrated student outcomes in reading proficiency.”15In both cases the requirement is pedagogically sound, and most would argue essential; the problem is with the assumption that such teachers are equitably distributed across the state’s 115 LEAs, and that enough of those teachers are willing or able to staff the reading camps. Without supporting policies in place to ensure that such teachers are readily available in all elementary schools during the school year and in reading camps over the summer, the requirement is only an aspirational guideline.
As noted above, the legislation assumes equitable availability statewide of high-quality reading teachers (both for school-year classrooms and for reading camps), but in practice such availability is much less consistent. As an example, our reading camp survey revealed the lengths to which some LEAs have to go in order to ensure that their camps are staffed at all—much less staffed with educators who have demonstrated proficiency in reading instruction. While many camps were led by principals, assistant principals, or instructional coaches, 43 of the 110 LEAs who participated in the survey reported that they offered one or more camps led by “other staff,” ranging from classroom teachers to non-instructional support staff. Also, survey results about camp length and conversations with LEA-level implementers indicate that some LEAs have more resources to supplement their provision of camp services than do others. These human resource and fiscal capacity differences likely are true for the school-year component of RtA as well, though measuring the extent of these issues will require additional LEA-level investigation.
Bolding mine, because this exposes a flaw that is carried over from our statewide staffing problem. One of the reason technically-inclined students go to regional (or even national) STEM camps is because individual schools can't staff their own Summer sessions with the right teachers. Guess what? Teaching kids to read is also a specialty, and not necessarily something just anybody can do. But it looks like RtA Reading Camps are being staffed by whoever is willing, regardless of training or qualification. Including Principals and Vice-Principals, which may be why many kids just don't want to go:
After the first EOG test in the spring, a little over 40,000 students initially were eligible for RtA intervention, and over the rest of the spring, about half of those were determined to be proficient via a number of different re-tests—with a large portion of those deemed eligible via a local assessment (Figure 7, page 22). Of the 20,000 students who did not demonstrate proficiency on alternate tests, over 12,000 attended reading camps, but only a little over 4,000 of those demonstrated proficiency at the end of the camp. In addition, almost 8,000 eligible students did not attend reading camps. Not only is proficiency after the spring EOG defined largely by a variety of local assessments, but also a sizeable proportion of those not identified as proficient are not accessing the instructional remediation offered ahead of what would have been their 4th grade year.