S.C. takes hard stance on third grade reading proficiency

S.C. takes hard stance on third grade reading proficiency

(S.C.) Third graders in South Carolina schools will be held back beginning next year if they do not attain proficiency on the state’s standardized reading exam under the final prong of a 2014 state law designed to ensure students don’t struggle to read throughout their educational career.

The Read to Succeed Act was adopted in response to low reading and literacy scores across the state, and requires schools to identify struggling students before grade three, and provide intensive support to get them back on track.

“It’s well known that reading is the best indicator of academic achievement and lifelong success, and our state needed a comprehensive approach to tackling reading proficiency and support measures to identify poor readers and address their needs,” Ryan Brown, spokesman for the South Carolina Department of Education, said in an interview. “We were working to identify these students even before the legislation was passed, but we are really kicking it into high gear now, especially in the earliest grades.”

Data from the South Carolina Department of Education show that only 44 percent of third graders met or exceeded standards in English Language Arts in 2016. Studies have found a correlation between the inability to read proficiently by the end of third grade and lower academic achievement and increased drop-out rates.

Other states, including Florida and Ohio, have also passed legislation calling on schools to identify struggling readers and provide support, and retain them in third grade if they haven’t reached proficiency. In Michigan and Mississippi, opponents of such laws argued that the funding provided by each state would not come close to covering the costs of the support services needed to help students reach proficiency.

That same criticism doesn’t appear to have been levied against officials in South Carolina. The 2017-18 state budget allocates nearly $29.5 million to schools for the hiring of reading coaches, and $7.5 million to establish and run summer reading camps.

Under the state’s Read to Succeed Act, districts are required to develop a district-wide reading plan that details how they will provide the resources necessary to help ensure that all students are able to comprehend grade-level text. This includes working with families to ensure that they understand how best to support their child’s literacy development early on.

Through fifth grade, students must have 90 minutes a day of literacy instruction, and all students who need additional support are required to have 30 minutes a day of supplemental support. Summer reading camps are also provided to all K-5 students who cannot yet comprehend grade-level reading material. And while all elementary schools must have literacy coaches on staff, every K-12 school is required to provide appropriate supplemental support until students are able to comprehend grade level texts.

Brown said that teachers have also gone through extensive professional development in compliance with the Read to Succeed Act so that they know how to identify and deal with specific reading issues students may have.

And in addition to the in-class supports mandated in the law, third graders who are two or more grade-levels behind will be required to attend a summer reading camp at no cost to the child’s family, where they will be taught by highly qualified teachers who have experience in working with struggling readers. Students who participate will undergo small group and individual instruction for a minimum of six weeks to work on their reading, writing, listening and critical thinking skills.

Although there are some exemptions, students who are still reading two years or more below grade-level by the end of the summer camp will not be promoted to the fourth grade, but will instead spend the next school year in a specially designed “literacy rich” classroom.

According to Brown, between regular reading assessments, daily literacy instruction and access to reaching coaches at every school, more children should see improved reading outcomes throughout the state without the need to be retained in grade three.

“It’s a comprehensive approach using research and effective instructional practices to identify and then work directly with the student and their parents to bring that child up to where they need to be,” Brown said. “And no one is waiting up until that third grade level to assess where these students are at–it starts as early as pre-K.”