Rediscovering the Importance of Childhood Reading

State government has grabbed firmly onto warnings that children whose reading skills are lagging by the third grade face an uphill educational climb from then on.

In a news release Wednesday about a Department of Education website on reading, First Lady Crissy Haslam said, “Research has shown that if children do not read on grade level by third grade, they never catch up with their peers.”

The first lady and the DOE launched ReadTennessee.org, a site the department says is designed to help teachers, parents and community members regarding new standards and higher expectations.

The point about the third grade has become a recurring theme on many fronts.

The Tennessee General Assembly passed a law this year regarding “social promotion,” saying students who do not perform at expected reading levels in the third grade will not be sent to the fourth grade.

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Charlotte Burks, D-Monterey, and Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville

“We cheat our children and ourselves when we allow students to move through our schools without actually learning the material,” Burks said in a release in May about the bill.

The Senate Republican Caucus said about 45,000 students in the state had been considered to be socially promoted.

“The main problem with social promotion is that the student falls further and further behind if they cannot master the third-grade-appropriate testing,” Gresham said in a release.

“Mastery of the basics, which are tested in the third grade, is critical to a child’s future success in school. Everything else builds on that foundation.”

The measure was highlighted in a recent speech by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey (see video), but while Ramsey and Gov. Bill Haslam were campaigning in 2010 on a jobs agenda, former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp was the strongest voice on the campaign trail about third-grade reading levels. His emphasis on the issue in the Republican primary was noticeable as far back as 2009.

Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis, is another passionate advocate of improving early elementary school reading skills. Parkinson said he’s learned that it is possible to project as early as the third grade whether a child may be incarcerated later in life.

“Think about that. Third grade. We know the likelihood of you going to prison based on how you come out of the third grade,” Parkinson said.

The new website the Department of Education announced Wednesday is geared with information boosting student achievement. It includes an online toolkit for teachers to connect them with various resources related to the issue.

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    “Research has shown that if children do not read on grade level by third grade, they never catch up with their peers.”

    Maybe this is new to our lawmakers but this is VERY OLD NEWS — it came out in the 1990s (I think) but is still accurate. I think it is rather bizarre that TN Powers that Be are just now finding out about this. Were they hiding underneath a rock?

    The Tennessee General Assembly passed a law this year regarding “social promotion,” saying students who do not perform at expected reading levels in the third grade will not be sent to the fourth grade.

    As a school psychologist, this is troubling to me for at least 1 reason: I noticed that the article is strangely silent about students with identified learning disabilities. Hmmm. Will do some further fact checking…

    Let’s hear from the experts who know the research on grade retention and social promotion. http://www.nasponline.org/about_nasp/pospaper_graderetent.aspx
    Position Statement on Student Grade Retention and Social Promotion

    “Both grade retention and social promotion fail to improve learning or facilitate positive achievement and adjustment outcomes. Neither repeating a grade nor merely moving on to the next grade provides students with the supports they need to improve academic and social skills. Holding schools accountable for student progress requires effective intervention strategies that provide educational opportunities and assistance to promote the social and cognitive development of students. Recognizing the cumulative developmental effects on student success at school, both early interventions and follow-up strategies are emphasized. Furthermore, in acknowledging the reciprocal influence of social and cognitive skills on academic success, effective interventions must be implemented to promote both social and cognitive competence of students. NASP encourages school districts to consider a wide array of well-researched, evidence-based, effective, and responsible strategies in lieu of retention or social promotion (see Algozzine, Ysseldyke, and Elliott, 2002 for a discussion of research-based tactics for effective instruction; see Shinn, Walker, and Stoner, 2002 for a more extensive discussion of interventions for academic and behavior problems).”

    Based squarely in science, this position paper is not glamourous or exciting. It does not provide any quick and easy answers.

    The answer to the social promotion/ retention problem is this: Response to Intervention. It is not a program but a philosophy that is drastically re-shaping the face of education. RTI makes a lot of sense– it is intutive… but very demanding. It is difficult to do well but it is worth doing well. It is misery on steriods if poorly planned and implemented. Training (teachers, parents, administrators) is vital . If you are a journalist who covers education but you know nothing about RTI, shame on you. You’d best go do some research. DO IT Now.