Ending 3rd grade social promotion holds benefits, challenges - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Ending 3rd grade social promotion holds benefits, challenges

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WATERLOO (KWWL) -

The Iowa legislature is continuing to mull over Governor Branstad's proposed education reform.  One piece of that legislation would end social promotion for third graders who are struggling with reading.  It's modeled after a similar measure in Florida.

One eastern Iowa educator knows the challenges of changing social promotion and just returned from testifying in Des Moines about his experiences.

Before coming to Iowa, Waterloo Superintendent Dr. Gary Norris spent four years as a superintendent in Sarasota, Florida.  In 2002, that state implemented strict reading standards, including a measure that bans social promotion of third graders.  Instead, kids who aren't up to par on reading skills are held back one or two years, until they can catch up with their classmates.  Dr. Norris sees both promising possibilities and challenges with bringing such standards to Iowa.

Mr. Boney's third grade class at Waterloo's Lowell Elementary is learning how to build reading skills.  School superintendent Dr. Gary Norris says it's at that age where kids shift from learning to read, to reading to learn, as reading becomes the way kids study every school subject from history to math.  And it's crucial at that early age that students don't fall behind.

"Drop outs also come from kids that can't read.  They're not doing well in school. They get discouraged because they can't read their 6th or 8th grade assignment," Dr. Norris said.

In Florida, Dr. Norris saw strong results from stricter standards, which included holding kids back in third grade if they feel two grade levels behind in reading.  Test scores dramatically improved.  And parents got much more involved in their kids' education.

"Once they found out their child was going to be retained or have the potential of being retained, they got engaged like never before," said Norris.

And Norris believes implementing third grade retention in Iowa could lead to similar results.  But he says the state can't just change the law alone.  It will also take stronger standards and interventions and more money to see real improvements.

He also says local districts need to do their part to help kids with reading.  Waterloo already has 90-minute reading blocks and dozens of literacy coaches.  Two days a week, kids struggling with reading also stay an hour after school for tutoring.  And those measures are starting to produce improved test results.

Parts of Governor Branstad's "education reform blueprint" are currently being debated in the legislative education committee in Des Moines.  The big question looming is whether the state can indeed find funding to implement its proposals.

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