COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Betsy Long loves to read. The librarian at Doby's Mill Elementary in Kershaw County encourages her students and their parents to share that same passion.
"Occasionally, I'll have kids who say they don't like reading -- or even parents who will admit that they don't. My answer to all of them, whether they're children or adults, is that you just haven't found the right books yet," she said.
There's a reason why Long's job is important. Some South Carolina students don't read well, including some third graders – a pivotal group. State officials say third-graders who can't read well by the end of third grade, are four times as likely to d rop out of high school.
With that stat in mind, years ago, lawmakers passed a program called Read to Succeed – a program that created more classroom reading time, reading coaches, and summer reading camps. But it also created a new rule: third-graders must pass a reading test called SC READY or they'll have to repeat the third grade.
That new requirement takes effect this school year. Those important tests will happen in the month of May for most if not all school districts.
"The teachers have been teaching standards all year long. They've been teaching the standards ever since the children have been in Pre-K, so the instruction is there," said Virginia Catoe, the South Carolina Department of Education's Director of Early Learning and Literacy
Catoe said even though the test might seem scary to students and their parents, it shouldn't. She doesn't believe a lot of third graders will have to repeat, and Long agrees.
"I don't think there's any need to panic," Long said. "Our kids know how to read. We need to encourage them."
Even if a student fails the test, there's a list of exceptions that can promote the student to fourth grade. For instance, if a student has disabilities, speaks limited English, or if the student successfully completes a summer reading camp.
When asked, two Midlands superintendents said they're not looking to retain students, and they'll approach each failing test score on a case-by-case basis. "The fate of the world does not turn on this," said Kershaw County School District Superintendent Dr. Frank Morgan.
Morgan believes the new program was devised with good intentions but has doubts about how effective it might be.
If you'd like to see a sample test, the South Carolina Department of Education has one here (click the link under SC READY, select ELA, select Grade 3, select Standard, then enter the provided login information and proceed). To learn more about Read to Succeed, click here.