Third grade reading guarantee flawed

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Many states are adopting a “third grade reading guarantee,” a stilted promise that all students will be reading at grade level by the end of their third grade year.


Based on reading research, this appears to be a good idea. The report, from Teachers College Columbia University, suggests that one of every three students failing a third-grade reading test do not graduate from high school. Still, while the third grade reading guarantee might look good for the politicians touting it to voters, the law is grossly flawed.

The problem with the reading guarantee is twofold. First, the kinds of tests used to measure reading ability are, in most cases, very poorly constructed. I’ve seen test answer choices that reading teachers debated for hours. Second, and a much bigger issue, the reading guarantee says that any third grader who fails the test does not get promoted to the fourth grade.

Retaining students for any reason is damaging (more on this in a future post). However, the idea behind the third grade reading guarantee, that students can’t recover from failing a reading test when they are eight years old, is ridiculous.

If students are not reading well, as they head to upper elementary school, this is certainly a problem, one that started much earlier. The fix is better reading strategies, beginning as early as preschool.

Retaining third graders will not only damage their self-esteem, it will hurt school districts financially.

No worries, at least the legislators will look good.

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Mark Barnes is the Founder of Times 10 Publications, which produces the popular Hack Learning Series, The uNseries, and other books from some of education's most reputable teachers and leaders. Barnes presents internationally on assessment, connected education, and Hack Learning. Connect with @markbarnes19 on Twitter.

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