The state of Indiana has passed a new law to go along with our mandatory standardized tests. Third graders who fail a specific reading portion of the test are required to be retained in third grade. The only exceptions are students who have previously been retained twice and students with IEPs (students with identified learning disabilities). The law only applies to third graders, so if you squeak by in third grade but fail later in the future, it doesn’t impact you. It puts a lot of additional pressure on teachers, who are often expected to control factors that are honestly out of our hands. It puts additional pressure on some students, who of course don’t want to be retained. It also puts additional pressure on those parents who are involved in education. It doesn’t, however, put pressure on the uninvolved or unconcerned (who probably need the pressure most!!).
I get that reading is important. I get that in many ways education beyond third grade doesn’t really teach students the foundations of learning to read. I’m not even sure third grade really does that, to be honest. We operate on the basic assumption that our students have a solid bank of sight words and are pretty good at decoding the rest. Students who can’t do that are lost in our classrooms as we explore more complicated aspects of reading and comprehension. Of course we give them additional support to help them be successful, but they’re still behind. Some are really, really behind. If this is going to be the law (like it or not), third grade may be too late. Would it be more “fair” to hold them back in first or
second grade instead? Most of the students we’re talking about have
already been identified in first and second grades as students targeted
for Reading Recovery/additional reading instruction because they
aren’t learning at the same rate as their peers. Unfortunately, they
haven’t caught up by third grade. On the other hand, some students are late bloomers and the reading portion of their brains mature later.
So how do we catch these students up? We’re reading 90 minutes or more a day. We’re using our classroom assistants for reading instruction and one-on-one help. We’re using a grade level remediation aide who is a licensed teacher for pull-outs. We’re using a computer program called SuccessMaker. We’re working, working, working. But will they all be ready? No.
Is another year in third grade the answer?