S.C. education leaders consider literacy fix

Proposal allows holding back third-graders

02/11/2013 1:03 PM

02/12/2013 9:00 AM

Refusing to promote third-graders who are not reading on grade level is an idea that state education leaders, including state schools chief Mick Zais, say could improve literacy statewide.

The proposal was one idea the S.C. Education Oversight Committee discussed Monday at a meeting reviewing its annual report on state schools and student performance. During the meeting, the committee agreed to develop legislation to address the state’s lack of progress in literacy.

Under the proposal, third-graders who are not reading on grade level would be placed in a reading-intensive program where they would gain the basic reading skills needed to advance, members of the committee said.

The committee also discussed:

•  Developing a statewide reading assessment for students entering school.
•  Requiring teachers from kindergarten to eighth grade to take graduate-level courses in how to teach reading.
•  Investing in pre-kindergarten, after-school and summer enrichment programs.

Based on the PASS test — the Palmetto Assessment of State Standards — 80 percent of the state’s third-graders read on grade level. But only 70 percent of the state’s eighth-graders met that benchmark. Those percentages have held steady for each grade level for the past four years.

“South Carolina’s progress in reading proficiency is relatively flat and students are struggling,” said Education Oversight Committee chairman Neil Robinson.

Many of the ideas discussed Monday are modeled after programs that the state Florida has enacted, committee members said.

Legislation could be ready by mid-March, said committee director Melanie Barton. A bill will “start the conversation” about a “systemic” shift in the state’s education system that likely will require more than a year to explore and revise.

Superintendent Zais said he long has advocated for a system focused on getting children reading on grade level by third grade. Being held back would not be “automatic” for those not reading on grade level, he said. Schools should have flexibility in allowing some students to advance a grade level in some circumstances.

Zais did not endorse mandating all teachers take more courses specific to teaching reading. Some teachers may need the training, he said. Others may not.

A statewide teacher evaluation system, which Zais is pilot-testing in select schools across the state, would help identify what training teachers need, he said.

Barton said a continuous focus on reading, especially for children living in poverty, is necessary, a sentiment others echoed.

“You can use heroic efforts to get someone up to where they’re reading on a third-grade level, and if you ... abandon them or leave them, they’re going to regress and fall back down,” Robinson said. “You’ve got to stay with them until they get past learning to read and can read to learn.”

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