“I know my child struggles in reading, but will she pass third grade?” These gut-wrenching words were tearfully repeated many times to me during parent teacher conferences this October.
I tried to encourage parents to focus on inspiring a love of reading in their child. I tried to share where benchmark scores, classroom observations, and assignments indicated their child was struggling. I tried to explain ways to support their child in strengthening literacy skills. But the fear that their child will qualify for retention weighed heavy on their hearts and minds.
“It’s unfair for one test to determine if my child passes third grade. I don’t want my child to see his friends move on while he stays behind, but I don’t want him to struggle in fourth grade.”
These are complex and emotionally charged issues for everyone involved.
My district has put together a thoughtful plan for our students knowing this law would go into effect for the 2019-2020 school year. K-3 teachers have been creating and filling out Individual Reading Improvement Plans (IRIPs) for the past two years, communicating these plans to parents, sending home progress reports, monitoring students’ interventions, and making changes when necessary. We’ve hired Literacy Coaches and Library Media Specialists, and we’ve implemented a new reading curriculum. We’ve shared activities and strategies to help families support their child’s reading skills at home. We’ve even hosted Curriculum Nights and Literacy Nights to encourage more students and families to read.
Will it be enough to prevent all of my students from being retained?
I wonder if lawmakers understand what an eight-year-old would feel like to be left behind his peers to repeat a year of school? How unfair would it be to repeat the same curriculum in all subject areas, even if reading is their only area of struggle? Will this create more behavior problems in these kids? Where will districts find funding to meet the needs of children who qualify for retention? Will third-grade class sizes grow even more? With ballooning class sizes, how much time can one teacher spend fostering each student’s literacy skills?
It is crucial for struggling readers to have time to practice reading every day with individual coaching and feedback. It is imperative for stakeholders to understand that one teacher working in a classroom alone requires more help to meet all the different needs of the children in their class. Unfortunately, many teachers don’t have the support necessary to help their neediest and lowest performing students. Additional adult support, smaller class sizes, high-quality training, and literacy resources (such as books) all cost school districts more money.
Policy makers have raised the stakes for schools and their students, but they have not provided the funding necessary for educators to improve literacy instruction and ignite positive changes for student growth.
I hope educators, parents, and policy makers will continue to push for a better plan and more funding to support our children’s literacy development. Literacy is crucial to our children’s and nation’s success. Our time and money are well spent investing in our children’s future.