by Nicole Droscha
Third-grade teacher, Mason Public Schools
“We still have so many third graders not meeting target scores for reading fluency, comprehension, and vocabulary. How will we close these gaps by year’s end? What other strategies or interventions can we try? What other resources can we use to reach more kids?”
These difficult questions are tackled by me and my third grade colleagues in our Professional Learning Community, or PLC meetings, where we spend an hour every week analyzing our most recent literacy data to target our instruction.
This huge task weighs heavy. We strive to help every child improve literacy skills—with intense focus on struggling readers. This year’s meetings have felt especially nerve-wracking with the Read by Grade Three law and its retention mandate going in effect.
Teaching is demanding and time-intensive work. I wonder how each of my third-grade teaching colleagues will continue to handle the burden of additional tasks they must perform to meet the law’s requirements: layers of paperwork, data collecting, data inputting, and data analysis. Greater communication with staff, students, and families. More time spent on meetings.
One of my greatest fears is the additional stress this law places on third-grade teachers.
Traditionally, third grade has been a pivotal year rich in growth and discovery. Kids transition from lower to upper elementary, where the curriculum expectations increase and the content presented intensifies.
Children progress from learning to read with a focus on foundational reading skills to reading to learn with a focus on comprehension skills and deepening content knowledge.
Third graders also take their first M-STEP, the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress, a summative assessment used to measure how well students are mastering state standards. A cut score, determined by the state, will be used to decide which kids qualify for retention.
Is it reasonable to expect third graders to perform well on their first experience taking a demanding, hours-long standardized test, especially with such high stakes looming over their heads? This is a heavy burden for any child to bear, let alone his or her teacher.
I wonder who will survive teaching third grade and for how long.
If third-grade teachers feel overly scrutinized and pressured to perform, who will want to teach this crucial grade level? Will third-grade teachers feel targeted? Will this create a revolving door into and out of third-grade teaching positions? How would constantly rotating staff ever master third-grade curriculum to best support their students?
Students, educators, and families need to feel supported, not fearful of failure.
We need funding to put more resources in place to help our children achieve their full literacy potential. We need a voice in creating thoughtful plans to grow improved literacy skills for our children that will build a more successful and hopeful future.
Our time and money are well spent investing in our children.