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Editorial: New focus on reading skills of third-graders badly needed

Nov. 22, 2013 @ 09:59 AM

One of the hottest topics in public education is still reading.

Specifically, states are focusing on making sure students have solid reading skills by the time they leave the third grade.

Educators have known for years that this is a critical turning point for students, because after the third grade, they need to read well to keep up in other subjects. Without those reading skills, students can fall behind and become more likely to drop out of school later on.

But the third-grade success rate is not very good.

Nationally, only about 34 percent of fourth-graders scored as proficient in reading in the Nation’s Report Card for 2013. Kentucky and Ohio did a little better at 37 percent, but in West Virginia the proficiency rate is even lower — about 28 percent.

Each of the states in our region is putting a bigger focus on elementary-school reading. But knowing what we know about the importance of third-grade performance, how far do you go to ensure that students “get it” before they move to the fourth grade.

About 15 states have implemented stricter retention policies, which ultimately hold students back if they do not pass the reading benchmarks, according to the Stateline News Service. In Ohio, for example, that “third-grade reading guarantee” begins this year with plans to hold back students who do not pass, or almost pass, the state reading test.

Florida began a similar approach almost 10 years ago, and the state has seen reading scores improve.

But the effort has to go beyond just drawing a line in the sand and making students repeat a grade.

Ohio, for example, requires that students who are held back receive instruction from a reading specialist and 90 minutes of reading instruction each school day. If the child shows enough progress they can move to fourth-grade work during the year.

Just as importantly, most of the states with the tougher retention policies also have programs to provide extra help for students well before the third grade. That includes expanding access to pre-kindergarten and providing early intervention for children who are struggling with their reading.

Ohio’s approach includes a closer evaluation of a child’s reading in those early years and providing extra support for students who need it. That includes working with parents or guardians on techniques they can use at home and monitoring the child’s progress to make sure their reading is improving.

Clearly these policies require increased instruction and resources, but it is time to make sure that third-graders develop the reading skills they need to carry them through school and life.



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