Look to Early Education to Promote Reading Proficiency

Sep 07, 2012

By Emily Firgens

Third grade is a critical year for reading, with children who are not reading proficiently by the end of third grade at a greater risk of lower academic achievement. In fact, third grade reading proficiency is so important that over half of states are implementing policies to improve students' reading proficiency by this time, with 14 states requiring retention for students with low reading test scores in third grade.

But are test-based retention policies in grade 3 successful in improving the academic outcomes for students? That was the focus of a recent event at Brookings.  Along with the event came the release of the brief, Is Retaining Students in the Early Grades Self-Defeating?, which takes a close look at Florida's third grade reading test-based retention policy. The Florida policy retains students who score at the lowest level on the state's reading test at the end of third grade. Students are then put through summer reading camp, assigned to "high-performing" teachers, and receive intensive reading intervention. Started in 2003, the policy is so far seen as a success by many. The brief shows retained students' experiencing achievement gains in reading and math compared to their promoted peers. Yet, the question that remains unanswered is whether retention itself helped students, or if it was a package of policies including intensive intervention and reading assistance that had the most significant effect.

Years of research demonstrate that retained students face negative academic outcomes as a result of being retained. Retained students can experience stigmatization and reduced expectations, causing them more harm. Additionally, retention policies come at significant financial cost to state and local school systems.

While the efficacy of retention policies will likely be debated for several years, particularly as additional states consider implementing similar policies to Florida's, what need not be debated is the efficacy of prevention and intervention during children's earliest years. Read More >>

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