Tossing a lifeline to non-reading students

Working to ensure that every student in the Rock Hill school district learns to read by the time he or she reaches the third grade may be the most constructive thing the district can do to ensure the educational success of those students. But that doesn’t mean the district should allow older students to fall through the cracks.

Teaching children to read by the third grade will remain a top priority for the district. But Superintendent Kelly Pew said Monday during a school board retreat that middle school and high school students who don’t read at their grade level also will get more help in the upcoming year.

Older students who need help will be directed to several remedial programs offered by the district. Those programs primarily will be available outside of class because fundamental reading skills are not part of the regular curriculum in middle or high school.

For some students who have not mastered reading by the time they reach their teens, it will be too late. A recent study by the American Educational Research Association found that a student who can’t read on grade level by third grade is four times less likely to graduate by age 19 than a child who is proficient at reading by that time.

Add poverty to the mix, and a non-reading third grader is 13 times less likely to graduate on time than his or her peers who can read.

Reading by the third grade has become something of a universal benchmark. Schools teach reading for the first three grades, but after that children aren’t so much learning to read as using their reading skills to master other topics.

That helps explain why teaching children to read early is so crucial. If students aren’t proficient in reading, chances are they also will struggle with any other courses that require the ability to read.

By the time they have reached middle school, that pattern of failure is likely to be well entrenched. And bad performance will contribute to a bad attitude toward school, poor work habits and an inclination to drop out.

But many of those students who are not fully proficient at reading undoubtedly could be helped even at a later age. Many may simply need one-on-one attention or a review of reading fundamentals to fine-tune their reading skills.

While the emphasis should remain on teaching children to read by third grade, we think the district is right not to give up on older students. If remedial instruction can provide a lifeline to those students, it might prevent them from graduating late or dropping out of school altogether, and improve their prospects for a productive future.