The most disturbing part of One Unshakable Vision, Governor Branstad’s plan for world-class schools for Iowa, is its proposal to flunk third graders, mostly boys, who read poorly. There are a myriad of studies that show retention does not help children, but rather hurts them ( Psychology in the Schools, Journal of School Psychology, the Position Statement on Student Retention and Social Promotion by the National Association of School Psychologists, source of a lot of this article, etc.). It should be expected that Branstad and his group would have done their homework before presenting this plan.
Most children who are at highest risk of being retained are boys, many of whom are African-Americans, Hispanic, or from poverty. The negative impact of retention affects all areas: academic, emotional, self-esteem, adolescence when those retained are sexually more mature, graduation rates, employment, and the list goes on. On the other hand, those with the same low-achievement scores who are promoted rather than retained can be compared with the rest of their peers.
One reason more boys are retained is that boys’ brains mature more slowly. Another is that many boys are kinesthetic learners who do not fit the school model of sitting in seats and learning visually. They need to move, use their hands, and have activity –based learning. Unfortunately, they can become labeled hyper-active or troublemakers because they are in and out of their seats, tapping their toes, or drawing instead of appearing to listen.
The solution is not retention. The solution is recognizing these students’ different learning styles, adjusting for them, and allowing them to succeed. Other evidence-based strategies are an emphasis on pre-school programs, effective early reading programs, tutoring and mentoring programs, monitoring progress with early intervention, age-appropriate instruction strategies, and close contact with parents. Testing without the time for individual intervention is pointless and expensive.
Make no mistake; it will take money to have an impact on these children’s reading scores including, but not limited to, small class size for at least pre-school through third grades, support staff to work one-on-one with the child who needs a boost, and summer school after all grades for that needed boost. Teachers know how to do it, but they need time and support from everyone who has an interest in good readers and thinkers. That is all of us: the education community, parents, and citizens. Let’s do it without flunking kids.
Wed, October 26, 2011
by Kathie Farris