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Students Should Be Held Back If Not Proficient In Reading

February 13, 2012

I am always troubled about the continuing news stories concerning how many school children are not proficient in reading.  Without a high degree of competency in reading everything else in life will suffer.  Though that lesson is well-known it is a constant struggle to make sure students in our schools learn the required reading skills.

What if they do not, at a certain grade level, have the reading skills that a state deems necessary to pass to another level?  What should happen to the child?  Should they be held back, or passed on?

I would argue that passing a child on to another grade without the needed reading skills is a disservice to the child, a problem for the next teacher who has a majority of a classroom ready to be engaged, and not what taxpayers expect for the dollars they pay for education services.  A society without a workforce of educated and competent readers is not what we need at a time of ever-more global competition.

I applaud those states and schools that are taking seriously the problem with low reading skills among some of our nation’s youth.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers in Colorado introduced legislation early this month that would prod schools to hold back children in kindergarten through third grade who don’t meet state reading standards. In the early grades, parents could insist the child be promoted, but at third grade, the school district would have the ultimate say.

“The goal is not to retain students, but to get parents, teachers and students all working collaboratively to address the literacy problems when they first show up,” said Colorado state Sen. Mike Johnston, a Democrat who is a sponsor of the bill. Iowa, New Mexico and Tennessee also are considering bills on the issue.

All the bills, as well as similar ones that passed recently in Oklahoma, Arizona and Indiana, aim to address literacy deficiencies that exist nationwide. Only one-third of U.S. schoolchildren had proficient scores on the most recent national reading exam, and scores have barely budged in two decades. That comes as children have made steady gains in math.

  1. Patrick permalink
    February 13, 2012 9:19 PM

    The reason I suggest the 8th grade firewall is that high schools typically do not have the same resources elementary schools and middle schools do. For example, there are few texts on the approved reading list for English 9 which are suitable for a student who is below grade level. Secondly, the close reading and critical thinking skills teachers aim to instill in H.S. readers are very differnt than the basic decoding, etc… which is involved in earlier stages of reading mastery. High School English teachers lack the training to teach these basic reading skills.

    As far as how far behind these students are…there are plenty of students with fourth, fifth, and sixth grade reading levels. Most districts offer a wide menu of interventions, but there is no firewall, so they get social promotions though no district would admit this in public.

    As I beleive you mentioned, reading is the cornerstone to all academic achievement–even in math. The only real problem or roadbock for a student trying to make up lost ground in other content areas–the research shows–is reading.

    I’m not sure that lawmakers in Wisconsin could pass such legislation–maybe after Walker wins the recall. The problem here in Wisconsin is an issue of race and poverty–mostly poverty. What since the achievement gap is so pronounced in Wisconsin, it is very dangerous for a politician to say …and by the way, most of the kids who we are holding back are poor or minority. I’ve been told that politicians see it as political suicide. Evers will never do anything. Another new part of the problem is the cohort graduation system that was just put into place. If a student who enters in first grade is held back–and “graduates” late–the district is punished. In my district it is increasingly hard to actually fail a class. How sad.

  2. February 13, 2012 7:22 PM


    Thanks for the comment.

    My question would be if one waits unitl the 8th grade to first hold a student back for reading 1) how far behind is the student by that time with reading skills, and 2) how far behind in every other area of his/her education?

    From my perspective reading competency must be attained at every grade level to ensure that everything elese meshes with schooling.

    I know there are no easy answers, but this is something that interests and frustrates at the the same time.

    Thanks for the comment.

  3. Patrick permalink
    February 13, 2012 7:05 PM

    There is no research to suggest tha holding students back at that age does any good–at all. Interestingly, they wanted to hold my son back in kindergarten because of his low reading ability. This fall, his MAPS scores in reading would have put him in Honors English 10 at my high school–pretty good for a fifth grader.

    This being said, I understand the desire to do something, but they would be better off to retain 8th graders who can’t read at grade level.

  4. Craig skip Weis permalink
    February 13, 2012 10:44 AM

    I agree. That’s why I flunked 4th grade. 100% F’s and D-‘s.

    Good going skippy.

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