Starting this school year, South Carolina third-graders who struggle to read on grade level could be forced to repeat the grade. It’s a measure designed to ensure students don’t move on before they are ready, said Ryan Brown, spokesperson for S.C. Department of Education.
“The reasoning behind the third-grade retention policy is to prevent students from being advanced to a higher grade before they have the skills necessary to be successful,” Brown said. “Advancement (when students aren’t ready) leads to students falling further and further behind their peers and is associated with alarming statistical trends such as higher likelihoods for dropping out, not graduatingand even incarceration later in life.”
State law will require third-grade students who score lowest on the state’s reading assessment to be retained, starting in 2017-18, unless they meet an exemption.
However, the law does not apply to home-schooled students.
Advancement in these situations leads to students falling further behind their peers and is associated with alarming statistical trends such as higher likelihoods for dropping out, not graduating and even incarceration later in life.
Ryan Brown, S.C. Department of Education
Brown said the exemptions include: students whose individual studies’ plans call for alternative assessment or reading interventions; students with limited English proficiency; and students who show improvement in summer reading camps.
“There are some ways to avoid retention,” Brown said.
One exemption allows students who score lowest on the state test to move on if they demonstrate third-grade reading proficiency on a school district’s test approved by the school board. That means students will not be held back based solely on one test score, said Ann Bogan, executive director of elementary education for Fort Mill school district.
Schools will continue to evaluate students based on the district’s own reading assessments, combined with teacher observations and communication with parents, to understand if a student needs more support, and to determine if a student should be held back, Bogan said.
“The state did a good job with exemptions,” said Marion Cook, reading coach at Springfield Elementary School. “It looks at all the areas.”
Peter Olinger, Springfield Elementary School principal, said retention is a last step after many supports are provided.
“When you are looking at retention, you want to look at a lot of things, not just reading,” he said. “It’s a really big decision if you are going to retain. Studies show it can have a major impact on whether that child will graduate high school.”
It’s a really big decision if you are going to retain.
Peter Olinger, Springfield Elementary School principal
Since South Carolina’s Read to Succeed Act was passed in 2014, the state has spent $164 million on reading coaches and summer reading camps for struggling students. The programs are required by state law.
“There has been a very strong emphasis on identifying these struggling readers,” Brown said. “Every expert can tell you reading is one of, if not the biggest, predictor of educational and lifelong success, particularly in those younger grades.”
York County educators agree.
Anne Witte, English and language arts instructional supervisor for Clover school district, said third grade is a shift for students as they go from learning to read to reading to learn information.
“It becomes a pivotal point in their career,” she said.
Reading preparation in schools starts as early as pre-kindergarten, Brown said.
“We’re identifying (struggling readers) as soon as they are getting into the public education system, staying with them and providing support all the way through high school,” he said. “We know pre-kindergarten, second and third grade are such important levels.”
The law also has provides a standardized approach to helping teachers -- in all grades and subjects -- identify and support struggling readers, said Tim Cooper, spokesperson for York school district.
“All teachers know reading is important, but not all teachers are trained to teach reading,” he said.
All teachers know reading is important, but not all teachers are trained to teach reading.
Tim Cooper, York school district
Brown said, “This legislation is not just impacting English teachers. Reading is incorporated into every subject. It’s important for every teacher to understand and support reading.”
Reading coaches and summer reading camps have helped teachers and students maintain their skills, Olinger said.
“Students get a pretty tense month of June of additional support,” he said. “A lot of our students are either able to maintain their level or grow over the summer and without that program we would usually see some regression.”
Parents also play a part, and should read with their children -- street signs, books, food labels and menus, Witte said.
Amanda Harris: 803-329-4082
Third-graders at risk
At the end of the 2017-18 school year, S.C. third-graders scoring lowest on a statewide reading test could be forced to repeat the grade.
Here is a look at the number of students who the law could affect in York, Chester and Lancaster Counties, based on 2016 scores. The chart shows the number of students tested and the number and percentage of students who scored low enough to be targeted for repeating the grade:
Percent with lowest scores
Information from the S.C. Department of Education
By the Numbers
▪ 3,215 – S.C. third-graders who scored low enough in 2016 to repeat the grade, roughly 5 percent of nearly 60,000 third-graders
▪ 223 – Third-graders in the York, Chester and Lancaster districts who scored low enough to repeat the grade
▪ 8,229 – S.C. third-graders recommended to attend summer reading camps in 2016
▪ 4,616 – S.C. third-graders who attended summer reading camps in 2016
▪ $164 million – State spending on summer reading camps and reading coaches since the 2014 reading law passed.
▪ 653 – Reading coaches paid for by the state to serve every S.C. elementary school. Some districts spent more to hire additional coaches.
Information from the S.C. Department of Education