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13 States Adopt 3rd Grade Reading Policies, But Details Vary

In my story last week on state legislative races that could prove decisive for K-12 policy, Iowa's decision regarding 3rd-grade reading requirements makes an appearance. My colleague Erik Robelen also wrote an extensive piece back in March on the issue, and how more states are looking at retention for those who don't demonstrate proficiency.

For those seeking a statistical (and clear) view of the policy situation, look no further than this detailed analysis provided by Stephanie Rose at the Education Commission of the States. The most general news is that in 2012, 13 states passed legislation intended to identify, intervene, and/or retain students who struggle to demonstrate reading proficiency by the end of 3rd grade. That brings the total number of states with reading policies specifically targeted at 3rd graders to 32, plus the District of Columbia. More specifically, D.C. and 14 states now have the controversial ability to retain students based on a lack of reading proficiency. Among reporters, trends are perhaps second in popularity only to strong coffee, but it's probably fair for the media to say that for 13 states to take action on one specific policy area of public education in one year is a significant shift.

But there's diversity within that trend, as Rose shows in great detail. For example, there are the exemptions from the retention policies. Six states (Delaware, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Maryland, and Missouri) allow exemptions for students who have already been detained just for reading deficiencies. Has your student been retained twice for that reason alone? In North Carolina and Oklahoma, he or she can be exempted from retention for a third time. In addition, 11 states exempt special education students, while seven exempt English language learners or those who are not fully English proficient.

Some states allow local and not state assessments to be used to determine reading proficiency, while others like Maryland, Missouri, Vermont, and Virginia, only test their students in literacy in the 3rd grade. Others, like Arizona and Florida, test students in prekindergarten. There's also a variety of interventions offered, from summer school to a home-reading program or the involvement of a reading specialist. Some states require up to four interventions, like Connecticut, while others, like Idaho, only require instruction outside of normal school hours.

I've only skimmed across the surface here, but there's a lot more to digest from Rose's report. For education policy observers, it's always helpful to have reports like this as a benchmark heading into the next year of state legislative sessions.

To keep up with the latest state education news, make sure you follow State EdWatch's Twitter feed @StateEdWatch.

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