There’s a Better Way To Teach Reading
The Ohio law makers and Gov. Kaisch were wrong writing into law the Third Grade Reading Guarantee, which requires schools to retain students in third grade who do not pass the third grade reading test. One writer estimated that it will cost over $500 million to re-educate all the retained third grade students in Ohio.
Obviously, the schools must take most of the blame for this problem, because teaching children to read is their job. Some blame must also go to the parents, who often provide meager learning experiences for their children. Politicians should not escape some of the blame for using schools as “political footballs” to further their own careers and to champion school reforms that do not work.
Nor should the media and press be exempted from blame, often supporting wrong-headed reforms that are actually harmful to students.
Lawmakers base their argument for the adoption of the Third Grade Reading Guarantee on three questionable premises: (1) that the best way to help students who fail the third grade reading test is to retain them in third grade, (2) that the program works because it has a track record of success, and (3) that a student who passes the third grade reading test is a reader.
There is ample evidence to show that academic retention and social promotion have mostly negative effects on students. They are not workable educational strategies for improving student achievement. Let me say that in another way, in case your missed it! Social promotion and retention will not work, because they are psychologically invalid ways of dealing with individual differences. A false dilemma is created, implying that there are only two choices available, when there are other successful alternatives from which to choose.
Jeb Bush (not a reading expert) claimed the Third Grade Reading Guarantee produced major reading gains in Florida. However, research has shown the gains were minimal and short-lived at best.
Students need more than third grade help to become readers. The reading scores of students begin to spread out starting in fourth grade and continue to widen thereafter. Some authorities call this phenomenon the “the fourth grade reading slump.” Many students come to school with meager background experiences. If they don’t receive help, these students can expect to drop behind their better-prepared peers and see the gap widen as they progress through the grades. The third grade reading program does not provide this help. Something must be done. But what?
My suggestion is a non-graded reading program, a system that does not use grade level designations to report student progress. Instead, student progress is measured by the achievement of levels placed in order of difficulty on a continuum, making it possible for an individual student to develop reading proficiency as fast as his/her motivation and ability allow. (By the way, this program helps students through grade 12, not just to third grade).
The non-graded approach represents a better way to account for the individual differences that exist in a group of learners. As a result, students in this organizational pattern consistently achieve more than their peers in the traditional grade-level system.
This program is not a panacea or a cure-all, but it would probably show more positive results than what is presently being done.
John T. Myers