By Dr. Scott Alsobrooks, PRCC
The Picayune Item
Do you remember the third grade? For many of us who do, it was probably a time of fun and child's play. Never did we realize the importance of the things that we were learning. We learned the multiplication tables and basic division. We studied basic science, along with our climate and the weather; rain clouds, temperature, and about atmospheric phenomena such as hurricanes. But most importantly, students learn reading comprehension. Not that reading was not studied in prior years, but really understanding what is being read instead of just sounding out words.
Young elementary aged students (then or now) most certainly do not comprehend the paramount importance associated with reading and comprehension. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress children who cannot read at level by the end of the third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school. This is a bit counter intuitive. As society typically terms those that do not complete high school as “high school dropouts.”
However, students without literacy skills have dropped out long before they enter high school. If a student cannot read to level by the fourth grade, then their chances of falling into that dropout category increase dramatically; not to mention the resources that are drained from middle schools and high schools in dealing with students in need of remediation.
Systematically, what happens to a community, county, state or country that has a high percentage of high school dropouts? Well, here are some important facts taken from www.americangraduate.org (http://www.americangraduate.org/learn/research-center/ get-the-facts.html) to think about when considering a third grade child that cannot read.
1. Dropouts are more likely to die prematurely from cardiovascular disease (35% of all deaths), cancer (27% of all deaths), infection (9% of all deaths), injury (5% of all deaths), lung disease (5% of all deaths), and diabetes (4% of all deaths).
2. Dropouts are up to six times more likely than high school graduates to report ever having been arrested. A 10-percentage point increase in high school graduation would reduce arrest rates for murder and assault by 20 percent, car theft by 13 percent, and rape by 10 percent.
3. High school dropouts are unqualified to serve in the armed forces and many potential recruits do not know enough math, science and English to perform well on the mandatory Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery.
Excuse the jargon, but it is mind boggling to understand the importance of the third grade.
Mississippi Senator Angela Burks Hill, Representative Rita Martinson, Senate Education Committee Chair Gray Tollison and House Education Committee Chair John Moore have worked together to craft a bill that strives to build a system that ensures a student’s reading skills are up to level before progressing to the fourth grade. As good researchers do, this team has reached out to other states that have improved literacy levels.
In this case the Senate and House team have bench-marked legislation with the state of Florida. Florida created legislation that has moved the percentage of third graders performing at the lowest reading levels from 27% of all third graders in 2002, to 18% of all third graders in 2012. Imagine what this improvement will do for Florida’s economy in years to come. Many of these students will earn an education that will lead them towards a fruitful career; instead of falling into some of the poor statistical categories mentioned above.
In effect, the Mississippi bill places into effect screening to ensure that a student is at level while traversing from kindergarten through third grades. Those that are not to level, upon notification to the parent or guardian, will receive support services and tutoring. If a student is not to level by the end of third grade, then the student cannot be promoted to the fourth grade. The future implications are too big to ignore. Let’s hope that this legislation creates a system that will create more educated Mississippians that are ready to infiltrate our economy and develop a higher standard of living. After all, the consequences are too high; we must invest in our children.