Learn to read before third grade, read to learn by third grade. Words to that effect have become mantra in Florida public schools, and they're backed up by the state's rule that third graders who aren't meeting the mark according to their FCAT results should repeat the grade (if other alternate assessments show the same thing).
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad wants his state to follow Florida's lead. He writes in the Des Moines Register:
"Florida lagged far behind Iowa in reading a decade ago, but today that's flipped: In 2011, Florida fourth-graders' average reading score was 225 on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Iowa's score was 221.
"Florida has been successful despite enrolling a much higher share of low-income students and students learning English as a second language. That state began major work to raise student achievement in 1999 — the same year Iowa launched its program to reduce class size and boost basic skills. But Florida's return on its investment has been much stronger.
"How did they do it? Intent on making faster progress, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and the Florida Legislature in 2002 ended social promotion to fourth grade for illiterate students. What followed was greater emphasis on intensive reading instruction and assessment starting in kindergarten, combined with giving parents strategies to use at home to support reading instruction in school."
Researchers have said that retentions have mild positive benefits, at best. School-based educators, meanwhile, see some of the social side-effects, such as kids driving to middle school where some of their schoolmates are barely 11 — potentially tough on both ends of the age spectrum.
Is Florida doing the right thing by continuing its third-grade retention policy, even making the FCAT reading bar tougher to achieve? Should Iowa follow?