Editorial: Quick fix

What’s the quickest way to improve fourth-grade reading scores? Keep poor readers in the third grade!

January 16, 2013


It’s hard to argue with Gov. Sam Brownback’s new emphasis on raising reading scores among Kansas youngsters, but both the governor and legislators need to make sure the state is seeking real improvement rather than a short-term fix that will simply make the statistics look better.

At a number of stops across the state last month, Brownback expressed his concern over the number of fourth-graders in Kansas public schools who aren’t proficient readers. Reports show 16.6 percent of fourth-graders were below the standard on Kansas assessment tests and 64 percent were below the proficient level on National Assessment of Education Program tests. To address that problem, Brownback says he will make specific proposals to the Legislature this year to boost fourth-grade reading scores.

However, Rep. Steve Huebert, R-Valley Center, isn’t waiting to see the governor’s proposal and already has pre-filed a bill that proposes one strategy for improving fourth-grade reading scores: keep all third-graders who are less than proficient on state reading tests in the third grade. Over the long haul, Huebert’s bill might result in more third-graders learning to read, but its most immediate impact will be to artificially boost the number of fourth-graders who are proficient readers by keeping poor readers out of fourth grade.

There is no doubt reading is an essential skill for Kansas youngsters at all education levels, but the state should be looking at broad and meaningful ways to raise reading proficiency, not a quick fix that meets a short-term goal.


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 5 months ago

The obsession with flunking kids is nothing but a distraction designed to appeal to the far right who believe any problem can be solved if the measures are punitive and vindictive enough, facts and research to the contrary be damned.

John Hamm 5 years, 5 months ago

And the idea of passing those children who do not meet the standards of the next grade level is an example of Liberal think at its worst. Oh, that's right "we don't want their feelings hurt." Too bad they can't function in society though.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 5 months ago

This position and attitude demonstrate nothing but complete ignorance in the areas of education and child development.

Greg Cooper 5 years, 5 months ago

How about we fund schools at the legal level and hire more remedial teachers?
doesn't that sound simple?

cowboy 5 years, 5 months ago

I think the single most damaging thing that you could do to a child is hold them back. Put the resources back into schools to support these kids.

Greg Cooper 5 years, 5 months ago

I hear your thought, but, in reality, holding a kid bback is less damaging than promoting him/her to a grade evel at which the kid will probably fail. Believe me, I am not in favor of arbitrarily holding a kid back a grade, but there is more educational sense in doing that or making sure the kid can read in the first place. Again, this simply means makiing sure the schools have enough resource teachers, well-trained, to ensure the kid can read at or above grade level. Educators know how to do this. Politicians do not, in the main, have the training or background to dwetermine what is best for the kids.

chootspa 5 years, 5 months ago

I'm not against holding a kid back who needs it. But let the educational team decide who needs it, not a bunch of legislators sitting in comfy chairs in Topeka.

4getabouit 5 years, 5 months ago

If you look deeper in the bill it also states that the retention can be waived by the parent. So, if my kid doesn't make the cut I can still push him forward.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 5 months ago

That's fine for parents who know that retention is almost always bad for the kid.

Greg Cooper 5 years, 5 months ago

As I said above, retention may not be as bad as making the kid compete with those of a higher erading level when he can not read well. My education background tells me that kids adjust to the situation they are in well, if they are instructed well. Most third grade students do not have much of a problem with what grade they are in, but with not being able to compete with the other studens, and the attendant lack or respect from the other kids.

That being said, bozo and cowboy, please be aware that, as I said earlier, this bill does not address the key issue: having the resources and trained personnel to make sure the kids do not get behind, that they know how to read.

It is going to be immpossible to keep educational standards high if we, as a state, continue cutting funding for the very teachers and curricula needed to maintain those standards.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 5 months ago

There's been a good deal of research on this, and pretty much all of it shows that reading comprehension problems can be better addressed through special instruction than by retention, which has indeed been shown to have negative consequences for most kids.

Greg Cooper 5 years, 5 months ago

I think that's what my point was. Thank you.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 5 months ago

You're both ignoring that 900 pound gorilla sitting right in front of you. The best place for the child to learn to read is at home and it should be done before the child ever enters school. If it hasn't happened by third grade, it's because of what is happening in the home, not what is or is not happening in the school. Whether it's best to then hold a child back, or not, whether it's best to promote a child, or not, isn't addressing the root of the problem.

The sad fact is that schools cannot fix what is broken in the homes. Yes, we can try. Yes, we must try. We will succeed sometimes and we will fail sometimes. But when met with failure, we should remember that the failure is built into the system, as long as the home is part of that system.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 5 months ago

Wow, Gandalf, that comment, if true just opens the floodgates to a storm of observations. Like, in some communities, 70% of children are born into single head of households. If your observation is true, then those people are making a choice to put their children at serious risk. Let's just label them bad parents right from the beginning and condemn their children to a life of illiteracy and poverty. Isn't that the obvious result?

I'd rather not go there. True, working and then being a good parent is difficult. And yes it would be beneficial if there were two working parents. But teaching your children to read needs to be right up there with feeding them and making certain they are safe. If the demands of work are too great, they need to reassess their priorities. They need make other choices.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 5 months ago

"Starve? Live homeless? Welfare?" Extremes, if you ask me. How about not having children you can't afford? Extreme the other way. I'd rather take a less extreme position.

My original point dealt with what is going on in the home and what, if anything, schools can do to address this. In my opinion, teaching your child to read is part of being a good parent. If you're not doing that, you're a bad parent and a school can't fix that. It's no different than if a parent feeds their child a very unhealthy diet. A school can provide a healthy lunch, but they can't force the child to eat it and that says nothing about the other meals each day and the three on weekends, holidays, vacations, etc. The school can only do so much. If the parent isn't providing a healthy diet, they're a bad parent. If they're not providing a safe environment, they're bad parents. If they're not teaching their children to read, then yes, they're bad parents.

BTW - You're the one who said two working parents were required to survive in today's world. What sort of advice would you give to all those people choosing to be single parents? What words of advice would you give to couples who throw in the towel at alarmingly high rates, putting their children at risk, according to your own definitions?

jhawkinsf 5 years, 5 months ago

I'm not blaming you. I'm just not blaming schools either. Parents have certain responsibilities. If they fail to perform those, they're bad parents, barring some extraordinary circumstances.

As to a study about single parent homes ... I was relying on your statement "that most families require two working parents to survive in today's world", with the inevitable conclusion that one parent homes are not surviving. If your statement was true, then my conclusion must be true.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 5 months ago

Obviously I agree. Two parents are better than one. A supportive extended family is better than not. Well funded schools are better than underfunded schools. I could go on. I'm sure I could make a long list that we would agree with. I do believe it takes a community.

That said, I stand by my original point that if the home is not providing their part of the equation, the school will not always be able to overcome that. Should they fail to overcome, the fault still is in the home, not the school.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 5 months ago

That has absolutely nothing to do with whether flunking third-graders who don't do well on standardized reading tests is a good idea.

Centerville 5 years, 5 months ago

There's nothing vindictive about having a child repeat a grade, especially to learn something as absolutely basic as first, second and third grade level reading. Why else are they in school? Why else should we bother even having schools if they can't move beyond square one?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 5 months ago

Holding kids back is not only ineffective, it's actually damaging to their development in numerous ways. And, it isn't even effective in improving their reading skills.

So if it doesn't work, why do it (other than to satisfy your need for punitive measures for punitive sake?)

John Hamm 5 years, 5 months ago

The idea that holding a child back is bad for the child is obscene. What do you gain by promoting a child who isn't proficient in basic societal tasks? They used to be held back. I knew some who were. They weren't crushed but they did perform better the next year!

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 5 months ago

Only problem with your assertion is that it doesn't hold up to scrutiny. In other words, for the great majority of kids, you're wrong.

jayhawklawrence 5 years, 5 months ago

A very courageous topic to focus on after a major speech (not!) announcing the new corporate welfare state.

Guess the LJW didn't want to step up to the plate on this one.

Haiku_Cuckoo 5 years, 5 months ago

The bulk of this responsibility falls on the parents. Don't let your kid spend hours on end playing video games. Take a weekly trip to the library instead and let him pick out a couple fun books to help build his reading skills. Your child will learn the basics of reading while in school, but it's up to you to help him develop that skill outside the classroom. Plus it's quality time spent with your child.

KSManimal 5 years, 5 months ago

This editorial was brilliant and succinct, but most folks here seem to have missed the point.

Brownback and his cronies don't give a porcupine's posterior about kids and their ability to read (or lack thereof). This isn't about helping kids, but rather it is about creating an ILLUSION that they've helped kids.

4th grade reading scores not up to snuff? Just hold back all the poor readers and voila! 4th grade reading scores go through the roof!

Then, Brownie et al can use this bogus "success" to "prove" that all their cuts to public school funding haven't hurt anyone...

Centerville 5 years, 5 months ago

When did it become so common and accepted for third-graders to not know how to read? How could expecting this be draconian? What the heck has all the money been spent on if they can't even begin to function?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 5 months ago

You set up all the straw men, but failed to adequately knock them down. Please try again.

Ron Holzwarth 5 years, 5 months ago

It's much better to repeat the third grade than to not be able to finish high school because you are unable to pass the classes. I can't believe that isn't obvious to everyone.

I could write a book about repeating grades. At a young age, it's not that important of an issue. When a child is older, then it is a serious problem.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 5 months ago

Your assumption is that getting flunked is the only and/or best way to improve reading comprehension, but the vast body of research into this issue says you are wrong.

Could you explain what advantage you see to flunking third-graders? Do you really think that not flunking them means that they'll just be ignored in the fourth grade? That teachers are incapable of tailoring instruction to the needs of the individual students, which will vary greatly even among those who do pass the standardized reading exam?

Ron Holzwarth 5 years, 5 months ago

I'm not going to write a book here, or name names. But repeating a grade and redoing failed studies has helped countless students that I have personally known in the past. And, my mother was a third grade teacher, and many other members of my family were teachers also. It's sort of the "family vocation".

And, classes are flunked and repeated at K.U. all the time! Do you think there should be a mandatory "pass" for all college students too?

I suppose you could talk to one of my aunts about it, she has her PhD in high school Counseling. But, she wouldn't waste her time, instead maybe you could just buy her book on Amazon.com and research the subject.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 5 months ago

We're talking grade school here, not college.

My family were educators, too. Spent many years as a teacher myself.

Ron Holzwarth 5 years, 5 months ago

But, as a qualifier, the decision to repeat a grade should never be taken lightly, there are a few factors to consider.

One of them is that class size tends to be get larger and larger as a cost cutting measure, and therefore individual attention is going to be stretched very thin. And, how much waiting should be done by the other members of the class while the students with deficiencies try to catch up?

In many cases, they never do catch up, even after slowing down the rest of the class for years. And, as a grand finale, they drop out of high school. That is not at all rare.

There is one more big thing that can be a problem, and I do know about this one for sure, is that sometimes a very young student is enrolled, and he would be better off in a classroom with students his own age. There generally isn't a problem at first, later there can be social problems with being so young, and sometimes academic problems simply don't happen. That isn't a problem as often as it used to be, now there are mandatory minimum ages for enrollment in Kansas, and I suppose other states as well.

There are many factors to consider, and I don't think reading skill should be the only one. Math skills are important also, but the most important thing of all is that the student eventually successfully graduate from high school, and hopefully be prepared to further his education after that.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 5 months ago

For some kids, repeating a grade may very well be the right decision. But for the great majority, staying with their age cohort is important for a wide variety of reasons.

Making flunking mandatory is just idiotic.

deec 5 years, 5 months ago

Dropping out of high school is not necessarily an indicator of future academic failure. Two of my kids got G.E.D.s and two graduated from high school. One graduate and one G.E.D. have graduated from college. The other two have some college credits as well. The G.E.D. graduate had several semesters on the honor roll at Ft. Hays and KU.

Adequate funding for teachers and materials is needed to improve learning opportunities for challenged students.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 5 months ago

Actually, if my family hadn't moved into a different school district, I would have skipped fourth grade.

handlon 5 years, 5 months ago

4th grade students results for reading tests were actually 89./. Scoring proficient and above. Go to KSDE and look for yourself. Bell curve anyone? The NAEP tests randomly throughout our state, choosing 140 classrooms to be tested. We are in the process of moving to Common Core State Standards, which are quite different than our current reading standards used in Kansas. They are more rigorous and districts across Kansas are working to change curriculum accordingly. I am not certain, but I believe the NAEP tests align more closely with CCSS, which our students currently have not been taught. Therefore, the Kansas State Reading Test results are a more true reflection of our students' reading abilities in this state. Of course, the anti Ed regime wants us to react and believe that few 4th graders can read. Give our kids a chance with the new standards before we make laws that are unnecessary such as the one the representative is pushing.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.