The Indiana State Board of Education’s policy to hold back any third-grader who can’t read seems, at first glance, like a good idea. After all, a child who can’t read is unlikely to succeed in school. Passing such a child on to the next grade would seem to be asking for trouble.
Former Gov. Mitch Daniels, who proposed ending “social promotion” of third-graders during his 2010 State of the State address, had a point when he said sending an illiterate child on to the fourth grade is unfair to the next teacher and perhaps even disastrous for the child. Educators admit when a teenager finally loses interest in education, the problem can often be traced back to the child’s failure to master reading in elementary school.
The seeds of any child’s eventual success or failure are often planted young.
Still, it’s important to avoid simple solutions to complex problems.
Can we really conclude a child is illiterate based solely on his or her performance on a single test?
Hoosier third-graders are taking the state’s reading proficiency test, the IREAD-3, this week. No one reading test should be this important.
In 2013, after summer remediation and a retest, Kokomo school officials told us nearly all of their third-graders, 98 percent, passed the IREAD exam. Officials said those third-graders who failed the first go-around told them they didn’t know how to finish the test.
Most of the students told their teachers they didn’t understand how to scroll down to read the entire text, or even how to move from one question to the next.
Local educators urged the state to leave the decisions about which students should be held back in local hands. Judging from Kokomo’s experience with the online exam, shouldn’t we then look at each child individually, examining the factors and bits of data that say whether a child might benefit from another year in the third grade?
There are other ways to help struggling students. The state should give schools the tools they need to help students succeed, but it shouldn’t tie their hands with arbitrary requirements.