The state Board of Education voted Thursday to allow school districts to use alternative assessments to determine if a third grader is reading at grade level.
The Board voted unanimously to allow the Wake County Public School System to use its own test to determine reading proficiency for third graders.
"The approval of these alternative assessments is one of the tools in the tool kit for demonstrating promotion to fourth grade," state schools superintendent June Atkinson said.
The vote comes after Wake County and 29 other school systems requested permission to drop some of the testing required by the state's Read to Achieve guidelines. The Read to Achieve law mandates third graders have to be able to read proficiently enough to be promoted to the fourth grade.
But the requirements are so stringent that it was estimated that 50,000 of the state's 105,000 third graders could end up in six-week summer school sessions known as Reading Boot Camps to be promoted to the fourth grade.
There are five ways that students can prove they meet the Read to Achieve standards, including a series of 36 mini-tests. Superintendents had warned the mini-tests could consume huge chunks of teaching time this spring.
"Especially in the area of reading -- I have some reservations about the level of rigor," state Board of Education member Olivia Oxendine said. "Can we accommodate and work around that? We certainly can."
The state school board first approved a request by about 30 North Carolina school districts that asked approval to use their own reading tests on the conditions that local boards attest the exams reliably demonstrate third-grade reading comprehension. The state board then allowed all 115 school districts in the state the same option of a local test if they followed the same conditions.
Board members said it took a lot of discussion behind closed doors to make a decision.
The Read to Achieve program was approved in 2012. Senate leader Phil Berger championed the Read to Achieve law and is defending its goals.
Gov. Pat McCrory urged the board Wednesday to provide districts with flexibility.