by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Given Republican legislative leaders’ interest in ensuring that third-graders exhibit proficiency in reading, you might be curious to learn what TIME magazine has to say about the topic this week.
In August the Brookings Institution shed new light on this debate when it released a report that attempts to isolate the impact of a child’s being held back from other factors, including poverty and parental involvement. The study’s author, Professor Martin West of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, looked at the outcomes of thousands of students in Florida, which since 2003 has been holding back third-graders who fail the state reading test and providing them with extensive remediation. (In the policy’s first year, 21,799 students had to repeat third grade, up from 4,819 the previous year.) West studied two very similar groups of kids–one group scored exactly at the cutoff on Florida’s third-grade reading test, and the other scored just one point above–and found that by the time they were in eighth grade, students who repeated third grade scored higher on reading and math tests than their peers who had been promoted to fourth grade without a hitch.
It’s worth noting, however, that Florida doesn’t simply make children repeat third grade. Students who are held back are to be assigned to a high-performing teacher and get 90 minutes of research-based reading instruction each day, and the state has started to give struggling readers more help as early as kindergarten. In other words, there’s not some magical aspect to third grade. “That shift from learning to read to reading to learn is much more of a gradual transition than a sudden event,” West says. These policies, he adds, “are meant to serve as an accountability device to ensure that all students receive sound instruction in reading in the early grades.”
Terry Stoops discussed North Carolina legislators’ ideas about reading during a spring interview with Carolina Journal Radio/CarolinaJournal.tv.