Editorial: Third-grade reading initiative worthy of watching for results
Ohio has joined a small group of states who are putting third-graders on the spot -- at least potentially. There are sound reasons for doing that, so long as Ohio's schools provide the necessary support that some of the state's third-graders will now need.
Last month, Gov. John Kasich signed into law an education bill that, among other things, included what has been called the "third grade reading guarantee." The translation is this: Starting in the 2013-2014 school year, third-graders in Ohio must pass a reading test before moving on to the fourth grade.
The Ohio governor said he is not out to pick on third-graders. Instead, he wants them better prepared to succeed throughout their school years and in life.
Ensuring young students learn to read has been found to be crucial to their prospects of success in the years ahead. A report commissioned last year by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which is responsible for putting out the annual Kids Count assessments of children's well-being, concluded that students who aren't proficient at reading by third grade are four times more likely to leave high school without graduating. Marcus Winters, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research who has studied the impact of a similar third-grade reading test program started in Florida in 2002, also emphasizes the importance of young students being able to read. He told USA Today that fourth grade is when young people stop learning to read and start reading to learn. Students who have not mastered reading by third grade have increasing difficulty keeping up in later school years, he said.
The move by Ohio does not come without controversy or concerns, from both parents and school administrators. Some parents and psychologists point to potential harm to a student's psyche if he or she is held back. But that notion ignores the same kind of harm that could occur if a student is held back in later years, plus the damage to a student's long-term prospects if he isn't a capable reader. Winters has studied the performance of students who just barely passed the test and those who just barely didn't in Florida. In the short and long term, the students held back did better academically than those who were moved ahead, according to Winter's findings published in April.
The concern from school administrators comes from the new law's related mandates, which require screening of students and intense daily reading instruction for those students found to need help. Administrators are concerned about whether the resources will be available to accomplish all that.
That's the lesson that Kasich and Ohio's lawmakers will need to take from this initiative. They can't hope for the program to be successful unless the necessary resources are put in place to support the students' progress.
If the resources are indeed there, however, this program has great potential to make a significant improvement in students' success. How this unfolds also should be of high interest to other states looking to improve education, including West Virginia and Kentucky.
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