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Education NewsTracker

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.