A new bill is going before the legislature this week. Called the "Third Grade Reading Accountability" bill, it requires that schools implement pretty serious remediation interventions for K-3 students who are not reading at standard. If they still aren't reading at standard in third grade, they can't go to fourth grade.
Part of me is really excited about this. For a long time I've argued against social promotion. As a high school teacher I often taught children who were still reading at the third grade level and I'd think, "How did they get to tenth grade?" I think we do a big disservice to children to put them in fourth grade- where explicit decoding instruction isn't typically part of the curriculum- when they can't read.
But another part of me has learned that holding a child back can be pretty traumatic for the child, and doesn't solve the problem.
I found a great article that helped me clarify my thoughts. By the National Association of School Psychologists, it outlines a common sense approach to supporting students who are below standard. It suggests that neither automatic social promotion or automatic retention make sense. Instead, "When faced with a recommendation to retain a child, the real task is not to decide to retain or not to retain but, rather, to identify specific intervention strategies to enhance the cognitive and social development of the child and promote his or her learning and success at school."
The article goes on to look at the research. Basically, while retention shows academic gains the following (repeated) year, after 2-3 years the child does worse, and is eventually 5-11 times more likely to drop out of school. Probably because without intervention strategies tailored to that child's needs, all the same obstacles are still there that prevented him from reading at standard in third grade.
So I've had to shift my position. I used to dream of the day our legislature would insist a child couldn't leave third grade without reading at the third grade level. Now, I think I want that decision, and all the other decisions made to help that child, to be up to the family and the teachers. I don't want it to be mandated. Maybe the solution is to do a better job of teaching explicit reading skills after third grade.
What do you think?