Third Grade Retention

Third grade retention is back in the news this week as legislators hear from advocates in favor of adopting a third-grade retention policy for students who cannot pass a literacy test.

Note that The Annual Condition of Education Report 2011 (p. 174) and The State Report Card for No Child Left Behind 2011 (p. 12) disclose that roughly twenty percent (20%) or one in five Iowa fourth-graders are not proficient in reading.  (Download the reports from the Iowa Department of Education here.)

So I was struck by the Des Monies Register headline:  Retention idea works, advocates tell panel: Holding back third-graders who can’t read gets parents involved, they say.  (Yes, I know the link will expire).   Here is the Des Moines Register quoting Matthew Ladner, a senior policy and research adviser for the Foundation for Excellence in Education:

“The retention piece brings focus, and it brings leverage for educators to get parents involved,” Ladner said. “That’s really crucial. When you tell parents who aren’t involved in the education of their child that Little Johnny is going to be retained unless we see X, that’s a very powerful message.”

Apparently, the take away for the Des Moines Register is that the problem with reading instruction in Iowa is the parents.

If it is so easy for parents untrained in reading instruction to teach children how to read, why can’t trained teaching professionals get the job done at school without our involvement?

Conversely, if parental involvement is so critical, why are all major decisions about educational programs made without us?

Parents didn’t write balanced literacy into the Iowa Model Core (see this post on who wrote the Model Core and this post on reading instruction and this post comparing Iowa Core decoding standards to Massachusetts standards (both pre-Common Core)).  Parents haven’t prevented Iowa teacher preparation programs from teaching the five components of Science Based Reading Instruction (see the NCTQ report here, especially note p. 24 of the report: UNI fails to treat adequately four of the five components of SBRI and U of I fails to treat adequately any of the five components of SBRI).  Parents haven’t chosen reading programs for the local school districts or directed district librarians to tell children that looking at the pictures in a book and talking about them is reading.

Parents have been excluded from education policy and program decision-making, don’t blame us for the results.

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