A state law that requires third-grade students to be proficient in reading before advancing to the fourth grade takes effect in the coming school year. It's already benefiting students.
In Oklahoma City, where roughly half of third-graders can't read on their grade level, officials have conducted free, two-week reading camps for incoming third-grade students. Enrollment at the five camp sites ranged from 500 to 650. The events generated student improvement. Before camp, about 5 percent of attendees were considered proficient. At the camps' conclusion, the figure rose to 13 percent. Much work remains, but this shows that advancement can occur in a relatively short amount of time.
Oklahoma schools must address reading deficiencies. Since 2002, Oklahoma fourth-graders have consistently scored lower than the national average on National Assessment of Educational Progress tests; low-income students have lagged even further behind. In 2011, 45 percent of low-income students in Oklahoma scored below the basic level on NAEP reading tests, compared with 36 percent of all students. Similar gaps existed between whites and minorities. Among 29 states and the District of Columbia, Oklahoma was tied for the 11th-lowest scores.
Teri Brecheen, executive director of literacy and early childhood education for the state Department of Education, says 98 percent of children are capable of reading at grade level — but early intervention, like Oklahoma City's reading camps, is crucial for those who struggle.
Although reading has always been a cornerstone of public education, the retention law clearly is incentivizing an emphasis on early intervention that benefits struggling students, especially the poor.
Critics may deride “high-stakes testing,” but a child who goes through school without learning to read will be denied a lifetime of opportunity. Therefore, the stakes were always high for students. At least now, Oklahoma is taking this challenge seriously.