Should Struggling Third Grade Readers be Retained?

Today I read that Michigan is pushing for struggling third grade readers to be retained. Other states have also been studying the issue. Obviously by retaining third graders, 4th grade scores will certaily look much improved! But, is that the option we really want? Traditionally, third grade is the cut. Numerous articles have discussed the issue, but please take a look at my commentary.

Third graders need a summer break–not retention

Data-driven instructionputs a lot of pressure on third graders to be proficient readers. Third grade has traditionally been considered a cut point, meaning until third, students learned to read, then kids read to learn, from then on. I do consider that to be true, based on my experience.

However, I have always believed we continue improving our reading all the way through school, and beyond, in adulthood. It’s time to reconsider retention as the correct strategy to remediate children left behind in reading, at any grade level.

I am anti-retention in nearly all cases. Supposedly retention gives children the “gift of time” to catch up and become proficient readers. Truly, in all my years as an educator I cannot recall one case where I thought retention was a viable option.

When I first became Principal, there were actually a couple boys who had been retained twice and they never got better academically because of it. Instead, they were taller, growing facial hair and generally quite obnoxious in classrooms and on the playground.

I think you will be most interested in theEducation Weekarticle I am sharing with you today, especially if you have a child considered behind in the fundamental reading skills required byCommon Corebenchmarks.

Were you aware many states are once again holding kiddos back because their reading is not up to what is considered an acceptable level?

I find this a poor practice for these valid reasons.

  1. Children learn at their own pace, in their own way. There is no timetable.
  2. Learning styles may not be considered important in the “race to the top”.
  3. With a51% poverty rate in public schools, there isn’t a level playing field.
  4. According totheNational Assessment of Educational Progress(NAEP)only 27% of children in the fourth grade are proficient readers.
  5. Interventions prior to, or instead of retention are generally in the child’s best interest.
  6. Standardized tests may not be reliable, valid or accurate evaluations of progress.

There are basic building blocks of reading which include:

  • Phonemic awareness
  • Phonics
  • Fluency
  • Vocabulary
  • Comprehension

Most likely third graders, unlessELL(English language learners) know the sounds of the language. Generally they havephonicspretty well mastered, but not necessarily. Phonics includes: letter sounds, compound words, prefixes and suffixes, contractions, syllables, etc.

Fluencyis tougher. First, I am not in favor of any timed test, using nonsense words as a gateway to grouping practices of any kind. Second,fluencyalso includes reading with expression, at appropriate rates for type of material and truly is not about reading a set number of words per minute. Finally, educators do not clearly describe fluency in ways we all use the same common language to define it!

Vocabularyis taughtdetached,as separate word lists (not the best idea) orembeddedwhich I consider vastly superior. Reading rich info-text and literature offers children opportunity to learn new words in context and then use the new words extensively in a wide variety of ways.

Comprehensionis the most important skill of all. That is why we read: to understand the deep meanings of text and respond to literature. In order to comprehend, children need to know how to preview and review material, ask and answer specific questions, select main ideas and details, summarize and delve deeply into their reading.

Age and grade level are very arbitrary in terms of reading achievement.

I hope to hear from you if your child was considered for retention, already held back or is behind according to “rigorous” standards in place at your school.

The next obvious question is, what do we do instead of retention? Summer break does not mean a “brain drain”. Instead, it offers time to relax, then take another look at learning gaps identified by your child’s teacher.

Set reading goals for the entire family. Go to the library. Use technology. Of most importance, make pleasure reading and mini-skill lessons as important as berry picking and field trips.

Moreover, I hope you take a look at some of my archived teaching blogs and facebook page for great resources to help you make a difference in your child’s reading.

Finally, keep the faith. Reading is not rocket science. Anyone can be a coach helping teach a child to read. It’s no different than sports. Our kids are all champions in the making when we make the goal reachable and fun on the way.

Leaving footprints on your reading hearts,

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