Broken Politics and 8-year old Victims

One thing is clear about our current political system – it rarely works. Washington is a prime example. But there are examples in Raleigh as well.

Broken politics are bad enough when adults pay the price for politicians’ foibles, but when bureaucrats use third graders as political pawns, political shenanigans take on a whole new meaning.

Here’s an example: In the 2011-12 Budget the General Assembly implemented the Read to Achieve program. What the bill did was simple: It said children in the third grade needed to be able to read at a third grade level before they could be promoted to the fourth grade. That was straightforward enough – it simply laid down a marker. It didn’t require that 8-year-olds take complex batteries of statewide tests. In fact, it didn’t require any statewide testing program at all.  A child’s teacher could make the decision.

And that’s where it stood until the bureaucrats at the Department of Public Instruction (and local school boards) got into the act and turned a simple goal into  a complex system of tests upon tests upon micro-tests – that all landed squarely on the heads of 8-year-olds.

The Department of Public Instruction started informing local school boards that reading proficiency could be measured in five ways:

1. Pass the Beginning of Grade Test.

2. Pass the End of Grade Test.

3. Pass the state developed alternative test.

4. Pass a State Board of Education approved test, developed at the local level.

5. Pass (at a 70% rate) the 36 passages in the student portfolio.

Now, bear in mind, the General Assembly didn’t mandate all these tests. But, nonetheless, some local school districts proceeded to require third graders to take a barrage of multiple tests.

So, why is this an example of ‘broken politics?’ Because it’s an example of how our state education bureaucrats react to any attempt at accountability.  It reminds me of the recent budget dust up in Washington. If the President had simply laid off a few IRS auditors, no one would have minded. But, instead, he chose to shut down those parts of the government that would cause the most pain and outrage – like locking veterans out of war memorials.

Bureaucrats don’t like accountability,  so under the ruse of complying with Read to Achieve they created a plan for testing that was sure to outrage parents. To crush any attempt at accountability the bureaucrats turned a simple requirement – that third graders be able to read – into an education train wreck.

5 Responses

  1. .Rep. Wells, I am disappointed that your newsletter conveys wrong information about Read to Achieve. The legislation clearly states the requirements for 3rd grade promotion, and the Dept. of Public Instruction has had the responsibility of carrying out the legislation that you approved. The legislation is burdensome and that is why I made recommendations to the General Assembly yesterday to make changes in the law. The law was not simple as you indicated, and it was the General Assembly who mandated these tests.

    I agree that a child’s teacher should make a decision about passing, and it should not be dictated by the General Assembly. We need to work together to fix legislation that you passed, and I hope that you will correct your untrue statements about the Department of Public Instruction being responsible.

  2. Glenn Fulbright says:

    Mr Wells, as a member of the Catawba County School Board I am in total agreement with you. I am totally convinced that DPI needs to be wiped out
    They have done more harm to our children and NC education than any other group. I also would like to say that the 25 percent law is a total down grade to our staff. I feel that everyone who voted for the law needs to to come and tell our 700 qualified teacher they will not get the 500 dollars for the next 4 years and not put the burden on staff and local boards to take the heat
    Glenn Fulbright


  3. Laura Sexton says:

    Mr. Wells, you are in a unique position to begin to begin to undo the damage the General Assembly has been wreaking on our schools over the past few years. I’m heartened that you disapprove of rampant testing, but I’m also curious as to what you intend to promote to replace it. May I suggest portfolio-based accountability? It is a procedure we in the “non-core” subjects are piloting in our own state, and as a classroom teacher of 11 years and informed parent, I believe it has far better potential to demonstrate growth and student progress than any test. The funding and implementation could be complicated, but certainly worth the investment to actually see our children grow.

    I hope, too, that you will bring to the Senate an understanding of the support that our youth need to achieve these important goals, especially in literacy and simple social development. It has been a struggle this year for my kindergartener to weather 40 minutes of homework and weekly tests (in kindergarten!) his first year in school. But being in a class with an inexperienced teacher with only 1/2 an assistant and 22 other rowdy five and six-year-olds while being pushed to achieve reading and math comprehension that psychology and education experts suggest develop closer to eight years old, how could even the brightest thrive?

    My son was denied the attention he needed in his first vulnerable year because of dangerous policies designed to balance the budget on his back and the backs of his classmates. Please help make sure this does not happen to more of our babies by reinstating class size caps for lower levels, removing the emphasis on testing, and funding teacher assistant positions.

    • Glenn Fulbright says:

      The question is will any of the house or governor to tell the present senate they have lost their minds. TA positions are a vital part of the children’s education. What of teachers had to clean up vomit drive buses make copies drive and set up field trips collect money write receipts run it to the office ,, when would there be time to teach. His budget vote will be watched closely.

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