If a 3rd-grader can’t read well . . .

Third graders who failed New York City’s reading test were unlikely to catch up by eighth grade or complete high school, concludes a new study by researchers at Teachers College, Columbia University.

Of those who failed third-grade reading, barely one in three graduated high school, compared to a 90 percent graduation rate among those who passed.

Grouping students into grade levels based primarily on age rather than ability should be rethought, suggested the researchers.

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  1. Stacy in NJ says:

    If you’re the parent of a struggling reader: never, ever leave your child’s education up to the well-intentioned idiots who call themselves “reading specialists”. They will fail you and you will have failed your child.

  2. No doubt that there’s some bad reading instruction and some otherwise intelligent kids may struggle with reading, but could third grade reading scores simply be a pretty good proxy for general intelligence and academic motivation?

    • Thinly Veiled Anonymity says:

      No. Because shut up.

      They can’t be proxies for parental involvement/ability either.

      Because shut up.

  3. Stacy in NJ says:

    Ohhh, so your position is that the reason kids can’t read is because they’re stupid?! What a relief. I thought it might be because primary reading instruction in much of what passes as “public education” in America is shite.

    Just as an aside, my son only learned to read after intensive instruction from the age of 5 at age 11. His IQ was tested at 122.

    • Why can’t it be some of both? There are smart students who were taught horribly, *and* there are stupid students who won’t learn no matter who teaches them. The question is, how do we identify and separate the two?

  4. Deirdre Mundy says:

    I think too many well-intentioned parents trust the schools on this…. I’ve met too many elementary school kids o average or above average intelligence who can only read words that they’ve memorized in advance.

    The problem is that they never learn phonics. So…their reading ability stalls out when they start encountering new, harder texts.

    Whole language is popular with teachers because it’s easy to show off: “Look! After just 3 weeks of kindergarten, Johnny can read a whole book!” But it really damages kids in the long run.

    Phonics gives kids a slower start, but it carries them through their whole lives….

    • Mark Roulo says:

      “I’ve met too many elementary school kids of average or above average intelligence who can only read words that they’ve memorized in advance.

      Whole language is popular with teachers because it’s easy to show off…”


      Don’t confuse Whole Word (think “Dick and Jane”) with Whole Language (surround the kids with good literature, they’ll pick up reading on their own …). Whole Word was popular from the 1930s to the 1950s. Whole Language showed up around the late 1980s (though the “first” whole language article to appear in peer reviewed literature seems to be from 1967).


      Whole Word allows kids to be “reading” in weeks, though it scales poorly to a large vocabulary. Whole Language does not ramp the kids up quickly like Whole Word does.

    • Whole languange (along with ‘new math’) should be considered child abuse…

  5. palisadesk says:

    The relationship between early reading ability and IQ or intelligence is (surprising to most) not that closely connected. It also depends on what aspects of “reading” are being discussed.

    Children with quite low IQs can learn to decode well and fluently (and early) assuming they don’t have “dyslexic-type” problems with phonological skills. They can also, depending on family background mostly, have large recognition vocabularies. This can be surprising, since vocabulary knowledge is a hallmark of higher cognitive ability. But vocabulary knowledge at this age is often a matter of memory, and associated with concrete objects and ideas.

    However, early reading in the primary grades is rarely cognitively demanding. Much of it requires fairly linear and literal comprehension, and children of low ability who are taught carefully and sequentially will be able to read grade-appropriate texts adequately. They will *not* shine at “higher order thinking” and “making connections” and so on but they can learn to find details in the story, put events in sequence, and other tasks that comprise reading tests at that level. The correlation between cognitive ability and early reading is only .3 — that is low.

    However, if a 3rd grader doesn’t read well, the reasons can be varied and disparate, not lending themselves to simple solutions. Children with severe language impairment, significant phonologically-based difficulties, very poor memory (can result from FAS), and of course generalized slower development will likely be weak readers in 3rd grade, regardless of the quality of instruction. Some need so much practice and repetition it is impossible to imagine it being done during the limited time available in school.

    However, instead of retention in grade (more of what didn’t work is supposed to help….how?) intensive support based on a good assessment of the child’s strengths and needs, and then targeted grouping with children with similar needs, is more likely to yield good results.

  6. No hard evidence? English text is a phonetic code! Phonics is THE key to deciphering the letter combinations we call words, although obviously it’s not going to lead to awesome advanced reading comprehension skills all on its own. Kids who don’t get taught phonics either are smart enough to figure it out on their own, struggle mightily, or have parents/tutors doing the job teachers haven’t done.

  7. Mark Roulo says:

    Is Jeanne Chall’s “Learning to Read: The Great Debate” (1967) part of the “virtually no hard evidence”?

  8. And schools/teachers are deliberately blind to what parents are doing outside of school. It’s so much easier to point to the successful kids as justifications for their pet fads and ignore the fact that Mom, Kumon or a private tutor has created that success. They point and say ” I told you Johnny third-grader would read when he was ready” and refuse to accept the fact that Johnny has had three sessions a week at Kumon for the past 4 months.