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States Are Ratcheting Up Reading Expectations For 3rd-Graders

July 17, 2019
Alexandra Starr

Changes in education policy often emanate from the federal government. But one policy that has spread across the country came not from Washington, D.C., but from Florida. “Mandatory retention” requires that third-graders who do not show sufficient proficiency in reading repeat the grade. It was part of a broader packet of reforms proposed by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in 2002.

Now 19 states have adopted the policy, in part because Bush has pushed hard for it. Not all children who perform poorly on reading tests are retained: Generally students with special needs and kids who have been in the country less than two years are exempted. And studies have shown that a child’s early literacy skills can have long-term implications. One out of six students who are not reading proficiently by fourth grade, according to a study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, don’t graduate from high school on time. That rate is four times greater than that of proficient readers.