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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

When 3rd-graders can't read, should they repeat the grade?

Third graders who read more than a year below grade level will be passed on to fourth grade in Michigan, where Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is expected to sign a bill repealing the "read or repeat" law.

The Republican-backed law contained so many loopholes that fewer than 10 percent of poor readers were retained, reports Jonathan Oosting for Bridge Michigan. Parents could simply ask for their child to be passed on to fourth grade.

Critics complained that black and low-income students who tested poorly "were far more likely to be held back than more affluent and white students."

“Holding students back reinforces achievement gaps, racial inequality and disproportionately impacts low-income communities,” said State Rep. Nate Shannon, a Sterling Heights Democrat and former teacher.

Michigan's fourth-grade reading score ranks 40th in the nation.

Tennessee's third-grade retention policy will go into effect this year, and it's also very controversial. Legislators may modify the law to exempt students who do poorly on a state test given in the spring if they score at the 50th percentile on their district's reading benchmark test, reports Marta W. Aldrich on Chalkbeat.

"The law also created summer learning camps and tutoring programs to support students who are struggling in reading and math," Aldrich writes. A leading Republican legislator proposes requiring that "any public school student held back in kindergarten, first grade, or second grade be assigned a tutor and undergo tutoring for the entire next school year."

Half the states and the District of Columbia require or allow low-performing third-graders to be held back, reports Education Week's Sarah Schwartz. The new laws often are linked to requirements that schools base early literacy on the "science of reading."

The threat of retention forces educators to take reading instruction seriously said Kymyona Burk, a senior policy fellow at ExcelinEd, who led Mississippi's "reading miracle."

Ensuring that students are prepared for fourth grade isn't punitive, write Burk and Carey Wright, former state superintendent, on The 74. Mississippi students who repeated third grade scored at the 62nd percentile in English Language Arts in sixth grade, while students who were just barely promoted scored at only the 20th percentile, according to a new study by the Wheelock Educational Policy Center. That's a "very large" effect, researchers said. The effect was strongest for black and Hispanic students.

While much of the research shows retention doesn't help students, it depends on what supports they receive, writes Schwartz. Two recent large-scale studies, both in Florida, "have shown longer-term academic benefits," such as higher grades in high school. Students didn't just repeat the year, she notes. In the 2019 study, which found English learners saw big gains after 3rd grade retention, "retained students received at least 90 minutes of daily, targeted reading instruction from high-performing teachers."

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These articles never report why unclassified below grade level native English speakers aren't getting effective intervention. ENL here is a county wide magnet program until sufficient English proficiency is reached to begin mainstreaming. The same could be done for unclassified native speakers.



I have no problem passing these kids on to the next grade, they'll wind up in high school with 2nd grade reading skills due to no one holding teachers, parents, administrators, and yes, the legislature and governor accountable.

The farther behind students fall in elementary school, the more likely they'll drop out in high school and possibly enter the 'school to prison' pipeline everyone talks about all the time.



Explain the logic in, "retention" of the student under the tutelage of the same "educators" who failed to teach them how to read in the first place. If the kid can't read, they should be given a school voucher so they can go to another school rather than being subjected to the same failed process that didn't work the first time.

It has never made since to me. You, the child fail, so we will hold you back and repeat the same failed process again.

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