In terms of its long-term impact on the future of the state, the Read to Succeed Act could be the most important bill the state Legislature considers this year.
Few would dispute that improving education is one of South Carolina’s most important goals. And raising reading proficiency is at the heart of improving education overall.
The Read to Succeed Act aims to strengthen the state’s emphasis on reading in pre-kindergarten to 12th grades. Its key mandate – and what is certain to be its most controversial element – would be a requirement to hold back third-graders if they are not reading on grade level.
Other measures in the bill include requiring every student entering pre-kindergarten or kindergarten to take a readiness screening test. Any pre-kindergarten through third-grade student having trouble reading grade-level materials would be provided 90 minutes of intensive, in-class supplemental reading intervention each day.
Students who still are identified with having significant problems at the end of the school year would go to summer reading camps. And, finally, those who can’t read at grade level by the third grade would be retained.
In addition, elementary and early childhood teachers would have to take five courses supplemental in reading education. Middle- and high-school teachers would have to take three of those courses.
The state would create a new Read to Succeed Office and a Reading Proficiency Panel to help school districts and universities implement the law’s requirements. And each district would have to create a reading proficiency plan of its own.
Some have criticized the proposal to retain third-graders who can’t read because of the stigma it would create and because, they assert, retention alone won’t solve the problem. But, as state Sen. Harvey Peeler, R-Gaffney, the bill’s chief sponsor, asserts, “a stigma for a year beats a stigma for a lifetime.”
Educators have long known that the ability to read well by the third grade is a key predictor of whether students will be successful in higher grades and whether they ultimately will graduate from high school. And one in five of the state’s high school students doesn’t graduate within five years.
Even those who do are not necessarily reading at grade level. Officials with the state’s technical colleges report that 41 percent of high school graduates need remedial help with reading skills to be able to perform at a college level.
That costs the state about $21 million a year to pay faculty needed to teach students what they should have learned in high school.
While holding some third-graders back might produce some stigma, it would give those students time to catch up with their peers and keep pace in later grades. Ultimately, being retained for a year is likely to be less traumatic than constantly struggling to keep up with fellow students.
Read to Succeed is modeled after a Florida law that took effect in 2002 under former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Since then, 13 other states have adopted the policy.
But Read to Succeed also closely mirrors the recommendations made by the S.C. Education Oversight Committee in its goals for 2020 report in February.
No other single factor is as important in educational success than being able to read. And the earlier schools intervene, the better a student’s chances of succeeding throughout his or her educational career.
Peeler is confident the bill has the support to pass. We hope he’s right and that fellow lawmakers will support this crucial legislation.