COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - New data shows a number of third-graders in the Midlands are not reading at grade level and for the first time and are being held back as a result.
In 2014, The South Carolina Read to Succeed Act was created to focus on students mastering reading skills before advancing to fourth grade. While students had long taken similar assessments in years past, the 2017-2018 school year was the first year third-graders who did not read on grade level, according to the SC Ready assessment, could be retained.
Students who do not meet the grade level reading requirements are eligible for retention if they do not meet one of the several exemptions also included in the legislation. Those exemptions include: limited English proficiency, students with disabilities, those who demonstrate third-grade reading proficiency on an alternative assessment approved by State Board of Education, students who have received two years of reading intervention and were previously retained, students who demonstrate mastery of state standards in a portfolio documentation of their work and those who successfully complete a summer reading camp.
The below chart shows data from the Department of Education including the school district, the number of third graders tested, the number that did not meet the requirements of the assessment and the subsequent total number of students retained.
Data shows over the last several years the assessment test scores have not improved, which to some shows the legislation is not working. However, the Department of Education said many factors influence a child’s ability to read at grade level, the most important one being poverty.
“Poverty is a huge indicator if a child will enter 4K or kindergarten with the reading skills they need,” David Mathis, Deputy Superintendent with the Department of Education, said. “Parents need to read with their child, expose them to new vocabulary, talk about what they’re reading as well as problem solving.”
Students unable to read at grade level in third grade are four times as likely to drop out of high school, according to state data.
Mathis also said, in the last few years, different companies have been contracted out to supply the assessments, so it is difficult to judge based on consistency. The SC Ready test, which students took last school year, will hopefully be the test for years to come, he said.
Springdale Elementary School, in the Lexington Two School District, did not retain a single student last year. Dawn Blaum, a third grade language arts teacher, said reading is vital to ensuring students are successful in their academic careers.
“It encompasses everything,” she said. “To be a successful person, you must be someone who is literate.”
She, too, agrees parents play a vital role at home preparing students for when they enter school.
“I say start reading to them as infants,” she said. “You can’t be exposed to too much reading. It doesn’t matter what they’re reading, as long as they’re doing it.”
Hope Vrana, Principal at Springdale Elementary, said teachers and administrators keep open lines of communication with parents throughout the school year to make sure they know how their children are progressing or in some cases, falling behind.
“We have parent information sessions and that provides them with great resources,” Vrana said. “Most parents want to do what’s best for their child, they just need guidance.”
Throughout the year, one-on-one meetings are held with parents to go over a child’s progress and they are made aware of the high stakes of the S.C. Ready Test given to students in May.
“They all kind of know if they don’t pass this at the end of the year they possibly might not pass third grade and that is just so stressful,” Blaum said. “There are some kids that just get stressed out at any test, but to know those are the stakes of the test at the end of the year, I think that’s really horrible to put onto a eight or nine year old child.”
While she believes the intent behind the Read To Succeed Act is good, Blaum isn’t convinced retaining students is the answer to their reading troubles.
“I don’t know that just retaining a child will suddenly, magically make them a better reader,” she said. “If they were only repeating that grade level reading that would be great, but they’re sitting through the same math lessons, social studies lessons and science lessons. While I think the intent of the law is wonderful, I don’t think in application it will really, truly help.”
The legislation also allows for additional resources in schools, including a reading coach teachers can utilize to brainstorm strategies to help students who may be struggling.
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