Reading to Succeed


As the third-grade reading law takes effect this school year, I have been contacted by a number of parents and teachers worried about the possibility that their child or pupil might be retained.

The question often posed to me is: How can we consider holding back a child from moving on to the next grade?

The question I pose to them is: How can we consider promoting a child who can’t read?

We do no favors for students who are passed on to the next grade without their having this most fundamental skill. Reading isn’t just a subject; it is a skill that is the foundation of all learning.

Education experts have noted that being unable to read at an appropriate grade level can lead to an array of other problems. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, 88 percent of 19-year-olds who dropped out of high school were unable to read proficiently by third grade. Seventy percent of U.S. prison inmates cannot read above a fourth-grade level.

But research has shown that with enough time on task and the right intervention, 95 percent of children can learn to read on grade level. We owe our students this chance to succeed.

It is important that I clearly communicate two important points. First, this is not one test on one day to determine if a child is promoted. Second, retention is a last resort.

I can’t stress enough that retention, as a requirement of the state law, is absolutely a last resort. Retained students would be limited to only those students who score Unsatisfactory in the reading assessment of the third-grade Oklahoma Core Curriculum Test (OCCT) and who don’t qualify for one of the state’s six good-cause exemptions. If a child demonstrates what typically would be deemed a second-grade reading level or higher on this assessment, the child will be promoted.

A student who scores Unsatisfactory on the state assessment, however, will still have the opportunity to take alternate tests; a teacher can still show a portfolio of the child’s work to demonstrate grade-level performance. There are other good-cause exemptions as well, for English Language Learners, for children on Individualized Education Plans who have been previously retained and others.

Some schools are considering transitional grades for retained students. There is nothing to stop a school from offering a transitional grade earlier than third grade.

In addition, no one, including the parent, should be surprised if a child scores Unsatisfactory. Under the law, schools are required to use benchmark assessments at the beginning of each year for students from kindergarten through third grade to identify children at risk of retention for reading. Schools must implement individualized reading plans for these children, and parents must be notified in writing about the intensive intervention.

To help ensure success for the Reading Sufficiency Act, the Oklahoma State Department of Education is requesting an additional $16 million in funding for the law.

Parents concerned about whether their child might be at risk should contact the child’s teacher.

All too often, a child’s inability to read condemns that youngster to academic struggles, limited opportunity and a lower quality of life. That will not happen on my watch.

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Last updated on February 5, 2014