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Should third-graders who fail a literacy test be held back?

BY DI EDITORIAL STAFF | OCTOBER 31, 2011 7:20 AM

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Yes

I don't run marathons. But I imagine it would be difficult to win a marathon with one of your legs cut off. You are ready to run, getting all excited, and then someone comes along and just lops one of your legs clean off.

That is what the third-grade literacy test is trying to prevent: kids starting marathons without both their legs.

Gov. Terry Branstad's new blueprint for educational reform in Iowa's public-school system is drastic. Some view the plan as a necessary evil, while some see it as playing with children for political gain.

One of the reformations is a required test in the spring term of every child's third-grade year, in which students would be examined on their ability to read. If they do not pass, they are "retained" (a pretty word for "held back") for another year.

Scary to some, a reformation such as this is true reform, and it will bring positive change to Iowa. Being a state that has been held as a standard for primary and secondary education, we hold a burning obligation to model the future of academia to the rest of the nation.

The ability to not only read but comprehend after third grade is considered essential to the growth of a student. According to the blueprint Branstad ordered on educational reform, from fourth grade and beyond, students are asked to "read in order to learn," as opposed to before, where they are "learning to read." If people are unable to read at the third-grade level, they will struggle to keep up with the higher expectations in the curriculum, leading to lower graduation rates.

No matter how hard you try to argue against it, education is a race. It is a competition. Students always want to set the curve, and teachers want to pay more attention to those who do, because, frankly, those students will make the teachers look better. Some children get left in the cracks and are shoved through the system without retaining any knowledge.

Our system is currently set up to line students up and make them run for years, jump through hoops, hurdling through barriers. Branstad's plan just wants to make sure students have both their legs and maybe a helmet before the gun is fired.

— Benjamin Evans

No

Gov. Terry Branstad's new third-grade literacy plan would require that third-graders who do not pass a literacy test at the end of the school year would be held back for a year.

While the ability to read is undoubtedly one of the most important skills young children need to have to be successful students, it seems unnecessary to make them repeat the third grade.

Excelling in literacy does not guarantee students' success or automatically make them a good students — they could suffer in other subjects, equally as others suffer in the realm of literacy, and still progress to the next grade.

Students learn at different levels. Perhaps some students who do not pass the literacy test would excel in similar tests in the fields of science and math. These students would be qualified to continue onto the next grade with their fellow students but would be held back for a year to develop a skill that, for them, might be one that they would acquire naturally later in their schooling.

If students suffer in the realm of literacy but excel in science, math, or other subjects, going onto the fourth grade and being immersed in reading and writing may give them the push they need to be on the same literacy level as their peers.

Holding students back and making them take the same classes might make them feel inadequate or decrease their motivation to succeed. A better approach might be to require tutoring for students who are falling behind in literacy but succeeding in all other fields or asking parents to read more with their children on a daily basis to ensure that they can keep up with their fellow students.

While Branstad's third-grade literacy plan is a good attempt at eliminating illiteracy in Iowa and ensuring that students can be successful in the future, holding students back does not seem to be the most effective way in which to do this, both for the success and happiness of the student.

— Sarah Damsky


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