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Education Reporter

States Work With 3rd Graders to Tackle Low Graduation Rates
Iowa and New Mexico are leading a movement to turn to an unlikely group for help addressing low high school graduation rates: the nation's third graders.

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That's because studies show that children who can't read by the 3rd grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school than their more reading-proficient peers. If those 3rd graders are poor, the likelihood that they will not graduate by age 19 increases 13-fold.

Governors in Iowa and New Mexico have proposed new reading skill levels for 3rd graders in hopes that early literacy intervention will help students by preventing "social promotion" and will save the states money in the long-term. The Governors are encouraging their respective state legislators to consider the new policies when they meet this winter.

The proposed reading standards have already met with some controversy. Democrats in New Mexico have been particularly critical, calling Governor Susana Martinez' proposal "the third-grade flunking bill" and arguing that increased 3rd grade retention is "punitive," "counterproductive," and would decrease parental involvement in schools. Governor Martinez has responded by calling for a "bold change" in New Mexico's education policy, pointing out that existing policies have left New Mexico in 48th place nationally in education achievement rankings, and that 80% of New Mexico's current 4th grade students cannot read at grade level.

Iowa officials have proposed an "Iowa Center for Literacy Education" to provide early literacy resources to its most at-risk districts, and are recommending statewide reading assessments for all 3rd graders in March of each year in an effort to keep students who cannot pass the tests from advancing to the 4th grade. Retained 3rd graders would be offered the opportunity to advance following an intensive summer reading camp, and would be permitted to advance to the 4th grade during the school year as soon as they can read.

Similar proposals have already been made into law in Utah, Arizona, and Oklahoma.

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