According to The Wall Street Journal, at least 16 states have attempted to use reading tests and laws requiring students to repeat third grade to help with literacy.
Education officials say the goal isn’t to hold back children but to create an incentive to do well. Others believe it’s unfair to students and fear they will feel discouraged.
Reading in the third grade is considered a pivotal benchmark in education. When reviewing fourth grade reading scores, Nation’s Report Card noted that all percentiles except the 90th experienced a drop in reading scores from 2019 to 2022.
Susan Neuman, former U.S. assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, says third grade is a critical year for children to be able to read with comprehension.
“We generally think if children cannot read well by the time they are in the third grade, they’re going to have difficulty in content areas like math, or science, or social studies,” Neuman told “NewsNation Now” anchor Nichole Berlie. “So, it’s a critical year where our children need to read fluently with comprehension. That’s essential. If it doesn’t happen, then it’s going to be a struggle all throughout the child’s career.”
At the heart of the problem, Neuman says, are educators not acknowledging the science of reading.
“That really involves children’s decoding skills and language comprehension,” she said. “Many of our schools have not taught the fundamentals of literacy or the science of literacy. And as a result, children have really suffered in terms of their ability to learn how to read.”
Neuman says it’s difficult to catch them back up once a child falls behind. She thinks students should be given intensive literacy support before they hit the third grade.
“We have additional supports where we can help children with dyslexia or children who are behind in decoding skills or phonics,” Neuman said. “What we need to do is work very hard in those early years prior to third grade in order to catch those children up and give them more support, so that they can be successful by the end of third grade.”
While every child is different, Neuman believes in some situations holding a child back can be a successful approach.
“Believe it or not, it can be. If children are not doing well, giving them another grade or passing them to another grade is really not successful for them. But if they retain in that grade and they get additional support with remedial instruction, as necessary, it can be a lifeline for that child,” Neuman said.
She continued: “The evidence is mixed based on whether or not those children are going to get the same old program. Another year, that’s pretty awful for kids, or they’re going to get better instruction and more additional support for remedial reading.”
According to Education Week, 25 states and the District of Columbia currently allow or require school districts to hold back students who are not reading proficiently by the end of third grade.