Monday, February 22, 2010

On Reading & Retention

Indiana Citizens was pleased to see this response from Carole Craig (NAACP) to Sunday’s Star on the Retention Law ( Senate Bill 258).  The Star picked two "experts" who just happened to agree with the policy and apparently the paper's position.  Certainly, we want reading to be a priority but this just shows another punitive effort that ignores focusing on the child.  Craig also points to the clear research on retention and dropout rates (which....we thought was a priority).

Retention isn't answer to reading problem

Having spent more than 30 years in urban education, currently as a consultant working with the NAACP to promote equity in education, I would never advocate that children be promoted to the next grade without having the appropriate skills. However, as research over the past 30 years shows, retention is not the answer either.
One of the first indicators of who will struggle in school and eventually drop out and be relegated to a life of poverty is the child who cannot read by third grade. However, studies show that a child who is retained is no more likely to be a successful high school graduate with the ability to complete college than the one who was socially promoted.
The issue becomes, instead, how can a child get through third grade without the necessary reading skills?
Elementary principals will tell you that they have no desire to socially promote such a student. They will tell you that they don't have needed resources and that more than likely these children came to school without preschool and kindergarten experiences, which are not fully funded for full day in Indiana.
Principals will tell you that more volunteers for mentoring and tutoring and more business and community partnerships are needed since teachers don't have the time to provide enough one-on-one instruction.
Rather than mandate retention, I would like see a public report from every Indiana school at midyear with the number of students who are not on the path to having reading skills needed to move on to fourth grade. I recommend that schools be required to list the strategies, resources, programs and partnerships being used to eliminate the problem (including a request to the Indiana Department of Education for help). I recommend that the number of staff members not considered proficient through the district performance evaluation process be listed.
If these are resource and personnel issues, how can children be punished through retention only to receive more of what didn't work? Instead, shouldn't proper action be taken by the Department of Education at midyear to ensure that every child be provided with what is necessary to succeed? If these children are suffering from not having preschool and kindergarten, then why not mandate and fund these for all students, as many states have already done?

Craig, an education consultant, is NAACP co-chair for Greater Indianapolis and the state


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