Time to Follow Florida and End Social Promotion for 3rd Graders Who Can't Read

Yesterday I told you that effective education reform might be ready to give Iowa a try. A major piece of the plan proposed by Gov. Terry Branstad and education department leader Jason Glass is to end social promotion for 3rd graders who can’t read. Well, my timing as usual is golden, since key Colorado education leaders yesterday gave serious discussion to moving the very same reform issue forward. Ed News Colorado reports:

The anxiety level in the room rose quickly after Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs and chair of the House Education Committee, briefed the group on his idea for a bill that would hold back third-graders who are the furthest behind in literacy. [link added]

About five years ago my Education Policy Center friends hosted an event with a couple experts who explained some major reasons behind Colorado’s “reading crisis.” Not all kids will be reading as well at the 3rd grade as I am, unfortunately. Let’s hope the issue of teacher training doesn’t get overlooked in this policy discussion. Not surprisingly, though, the idea to end social promotion already has opposition:

Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, said, “Retaining a student is almost a guarantee they will drop out,” calling retention in grade “a death sentence.” Her comments were echoed by several other members of the task force.

Really? Not so fast. What the facts do show is that non-proficient readers in 3rd grade are eight times more likely to drop out than their proficient peers. And Florida has successfully shown that holding back 3rd grade students who don’t demonstrate basic literacy can be done effectively. A major peer-reviewed study shows the success of Florida’s policy:

Our findings suggest that retained students slightly outperformed socially promoted students in reading in the first year after retention, and these gains increased substantially in the second year.

All in all, I’m glad to see this issue moving forward, and hope yesterday’s discussion leads to some fruitful changes. Florida has shown that ending social promotion and providing scientifically-based early literacy interventions absolutely works. Kids need to learn how to read. Let’s not be afraid to follow another state’s success in this area. Kudos to groups like Colorado Succeeds who have emphasized this issue as a need for change.