Third Grade Readers


I recently engaged in a small debate with some friends of mine on Facebook.  The subject is 3rd grade readers and what should be done with those kids who are struggling to read at that age.

Minnesota just passed, or is getting ready to pass, a new law that requires kids who are not reading at grade level by 3rd grade be held back:

The bill would direct school districts and charter schools to develop plans to monitor students’ literacy skills from kindergarten through grade three and inform parents at least twice a year of their child’s reading progress. Struggling students would get extra help such as tutoring, summer school or extended time programs.

It would also limit “social promotion,” or advancing students automatically to the next grade. With certain exceptions, students would only be promoted to the fourth grade if they demonstrate reading proficiency by the end of third grade — but if not, they’d repeat third grade and receive intensive, specialized intervention.

As is my nature [i’m kind’ofa a smartass] and the fact that I used to teach [okay-okay, 1 year] combined with the fact hat I have a rising 3rd grader got me interested.

So I asked what we should do with 3rd graders who can’t read?  In my mind, this is a larger question and should be answered at every grade or measurement period.  That is, if you haven’t mastered the 8th grade, you shouldn’t move on to 9th.  Same with Jr. Social Studies or Algebra I.  But whatever, 3rd grade is the topic so we’ll stick with that.

It turns out that there is a study that shows reading ability at 3rd grade is a strong predictor of graduation.

One in six children who are not reading proficiently in third grade do not graduate from high school on time, a rate four times greater than that for proficient readers.

This is powerful stuff.

Now, to be sure, correlation doesn’t imply causation.  It could very well be that the factor that contributes to poor 3rd grade reading is the same factor that contributes to dropping out.  In fact, the study finds poverty is a massive indicatr as well:

Overall, 22 percent of children who have lived in poverty do not graduate from high school, compared to 6 percent of those who have never been poor. This 4 rises to 32 percent for students spending more than half of their childhood in poverty.

Does poverty cause poor reading? Are parents who are poor unable or unwilling to do the needful in order to get their kids to read?  Intelligence in inherited.  Is it possible that folks with lower IQs raise children with lower IQs?

Fascinating questions.  However, schools and administrations, along with states and other governments, are taking this study to heart.  By getting kids at their grade level achievement in reading by the 3rd grade, they feel they are increasing the chances these kids stay in school and graduate.

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5 comments
  1. Henry said:

    Define “Reading Proficiency”

    Until I was a teenager, I never considered myself to be a proficient reader. I could read the words within the context of the passage, but it was a slow process. I would read one word – stop – process – then continue to the next word. I mostly attribute this to my lack of experience. Reading is a skill, it takes practice. When I started reading more, my reading skills improved. My guess is that most students with poor reading skills are also just lacking experience. When I was a kid I just had television to waste my spare time. Now kids have video on demand, DVDs, and video games. I suspect that eliminating social promotion would be a serious motivator. Few kids want to be held back twice. The first time through third grade may not kick them into gear, but the SECOND year in third grade will likely prompt them to work harder on their school lessons and reading skills.

    • pino said:

      Until I was a teenager, I never considered myself to be a proficient reader. I could read the words within the context of the passage, but it was a slow process. I would read one word – stop – process – then continue to the next word.

      I was a strong reader growing up. However, since I have become an adult I have learned that some people are able to read at a massively faster pace than I can. It’s as if they scan the page, grab key words and compile the concepts. I still read as I did growing up. It’s as if I speak each word in my mind.

      I suspect that eliminating social promotion would be a serious motivator. Few kids want to be held back twice.

      I suspect it’s the parents. You are right, reading is a skill that is learned. We read to our young kids every night and beginning the summer before kindergarten, we make them read to us.

  2. Pino:

    Even if poor reading skills in the 3rd grade CAUSE kids to eventually drop-out, this doesn’t imply that holding poor readers back a grade is a good intervention. For example, many studies also indicate that retaining students in early grades is strongly associated with worse graduation chances. Retention could take a bad outcome and actually make it worse.

    Retention might be a great motivator for parents, but it’s a lousy motivator for children because they tend to be very present-oriented and don’t account for future consequences the way that (most) adults do. You are right that kids don’t want to be held back. However, even with that very strong inducement, the threat of being held back doesn’t affect their immediate, day-to-day behavior much, if at all.

    There are a number of interventions that have been shown to be effective (e.g., Success for All). Although these interventions cost more up front, they save substantial sums on the back end and have been shown to be cost-effective.

    • pino said:

      Even if poor reading skills in the 3rd grade CAUSE kids to eventually drop-out, this doesn’t imply that holding poor readers back a grade is a good intervention. For example, many studies also indicate that retaining students in early grades is strongly associated with worse graduation chances. Retention could take a bad outcome and actually make it worse.

      I agree. Retention may not be the answer, but neither is saying we need to keep doing what we’re doing. I would suspect that it’s a hybrid model that’ll work.

      Retention might be a great motivator for parents, but it’s a lousy motivator for children because they tend to be very present-oriented and don’t account for future consequences the way that (most) adults do.

      Totally agree. However, with that in mind, 3rd graders don’t really care if they are held back or not.

      My larger point is that social promotion isn’t the answer. It’s why nearly 50% of De’troilet adults can’t read.

  3. Henry said:

    Wish List:
    I have another item to add to my wish list of things that could and should be changed. We know that all but the smallest new televisions have closed captioning built-in. Educators originally thought this might be a way to get kids to read more. In theory, students could mute the audio and just read the dialog on the screen, but there is a problem. If the audio is turned off, BOTH the dialog and the sound effects are gone. I can tolerate a foreign language movie with English sub-titles, but I NEED the sound effects and background music. My wish list item is for programming to have an additional audio option with only the sound effects and background music. This would greatly enhance the experience of viewing the program while reading the closed captioning.

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