An education bill that passed the Minnesota House would require schools to hold back third-graders who aren’t reading at grade level.
Admittedly, it wouldn’t be a hard-and-fast rule, so not every third-grader who fails the reading portion of the MCA exam would repeat third grade. Exceptions would be made for kids with disabilities, or those who pass a locally created alternative exam. And finally, if all else fails, parents of a below-grade-level reader could sign some type of disclosure/waiver form and send their child on to fourth grade.
In other words, it would be a fairly toothless law, but one that nevertheless would send a clear message to teachers and parents. They, in turn, would let that message trickle down to their students and children: Pass the MCA exam or be prepared to suffer the emotional and social consequences of having to repeat third grade.
We’ve long believed that our public schools are spending too much time and energy prepping students for standardized tests, but this proposal would take things one giant step further. It’s one thing to tell a ninth-grader that they need to pass a reading exam to graduate from high school, but do we really want to place similar pressure on 8-year-olds?
The intent of this proposal is admirable. Third grade is a crucial time, as students begin to transition from “reading for reading’s sake” to a world in which reading is an assumed skill, necessary for the study of everything from science to social studies, math to music.
Should educators and parents constantly reassess the methods they’re using to help children learn to read? Absolutely. There is perhaps no greater predictor of success in life than the ability to comprehend the written word at an early age.
But threatening kids and their parents with what we see as the ultimate punishment won’t create better readers. It will only create test anxiety — and kids today already have more than enough of that.