This morning I read an article written by the Secretary of Education designate, Hanna Skandera of the New Mexico Department of Education about the efficacy of the practice of social promotion.
On the surface I agree with what is said in the article because I believe that purely social promotion does a disservice to the student as well as teachers and classmates. However, none of the pertinent variables in learning, practices in the school district or programs available and offered to students are addressed or even mentioned. In the article she faults lawmakers and schools for not stopping the practice of promoting students who aren’t reading at grade level by the end of third grade. She tells a story about a second grader when recognizes the importance of learning to read to his future and implies that even a second grader is more astute than the lawmakers and educators in this state. She asks what would happen if we all work together to benefit our children and again I ask the same question.
It’s at this point I move away from her direction. It is simplistic to think that by retaining students in the third grade until they read we will produce children who will achieve their dreams.
I am the mother of four children who graduated from the Albuquerque Public Schools and passed the literacy/competency exams in the eleventh grade. I also happen to have a Bachelors Degree in education and have taught remedial reading and writing and am licensed to teach English to non-English first language speakers. Each of my children were individuals when it came to learning. One of them was reading at college level at the end of fifth grade another excelled in science and math as well as writing and language skills. One of my children read well but struggled with spelling and was an exceptionally hard worker who holds a masters degree today. My youngest child is bright and incredibly creative. He was a good student and none of his teachers ever complained to me about his behavior. His first grade teacher was concerned that he didn’t like to pretend in the make believe kitchen in the classroom but she didn’t know that since he was the youngest child he had already been participating in actual cooking and baking at home ad found the pretending uninteresting. In spite of being very bright he struggled learning to read and even his teachers didn’t realize he wasn’t actually reading the texts in class because he had found ways to compensate by carefully listening and using cues in the pictures for understanding.
When I discovered that he wasn’t actually reading at the end of third grade I started taking him to private tutoring and learning centers. The only alternative offered by the schools was “special ed” and he already expressed concern about being thought of as dumb. I was determined to support his abilities and help him overcome his different learning style. Like the child in Ms. Skandera’s story he understood the importance of reading but the process in the classroom didn’t work for him. It would have made no difference to retain him that year of for several years using that same methodology. After five years of working weekly with private reading specialist using a variety of methodologies he achieved a level that enabled him to read at his classroom level. His reading was proficient but slow. As he discovered more and more challenging books he was interested in reading, like Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul on Ice, he would sit for hours reading just a few pages.
The Title One reading programs in the public schools come closest to what is needed to help those students with reading learning differences. To defeat a child at an early age by retaining them and sending the message that they are not equal to other students in their class is harmful. What is needed are reading programs to address different learning styles. This cannot be addressed in the regular classroom due to class size. These differences must be addressed by a teacher who has no more than 6 children at a time and ideally no more that 3 or 4, meeting for an hour or so two to three times a week.
What I was able to do for my child is not available to every parent for a variety of reasons and shouldn’t be necessary in a country that is committed to providing an equal education for all children. Retention of all students who fail to read at grade level in third grade is not the answer. It is necessary to adequately fund and provide programs to address the educational needs of each child or provide funding to parents out of their tax dollars to provide that education themselves.