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January 7, 2013

Read or Repeat, Ohio Third Graders Put to the Test

Watch Ohio Third Graders Must Learn to Read or Repeat the Year on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

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While a good foundation in reading is essential to succeeding in school, many kids in the U.S. graduate from grade to grade without being able to read at their grade level. This creates problems for students and teachers in later years.

“I have some students who are at a kindergarten level reading, first grade level reading, second grade. I look at it with dismay,” said Ohio fifth grade teacher Linda Hissett.

“The students’ whole day is made harder because all of our texts are based upon a fifth grade reading speed. Math class is harder because you’re having word problems, science, social studies.”

In order to make sure that kids are not going on to the fourth, fifth, or even higher grades without the ability to read, Ohio recently passed legislation that says if a student is not reading on level by the end of the third grade, they will have to repeat the grade.

“Up until third grade, you’re learning to read. After third grade, you’re reading to learn. But if you aren’t well-equipped, reading proficiently at the end of third grade, you are going to struggle throughout the rest of your school years,” said Ohio State Senator Peggy Lehner.

Putting a deadline on the third grade is becoming a more common practice, with 14 states adopting similar measures, 6 since 2010.

However, some critics say that holding kids back doesn’t pay off and may actually result in higher dropout rates down the line, potentially devastating news for disadvantaged minority students who are already five times more likely to be held back.

Ohio schools have had to cut back on tutoring services for thousands of students to pay for reading specialists to come into the schools. To reinstate the programs, Sen. Lehner says the state “might be looking at $50 million, $60 million.”

However, Sen. Lehner argues, something in the education system needs to change.

“It is a risk. And I think we have to take a risk. We have to change what we are doing, because what we have been doing is not working.”


Warm up questions

1. What is the difference between “learning to read” and “reading to learn”?

2. Why do you think it is important for kids to be able to read at grade level?

3. What did your parents or school do to ensure you were at the proper reading level?

Discussion questions

1. Do you think this law is the proper way to deal with this problem?

2. Do you think this law will help or hurt kids in the long run?

3. What other measures do you think the state could take to help kids learn to read?

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