Breaking Down Literacy Myths With Facts

4 Min Read
Title Impact Studies Troup County Asbury Park

By the third grade, students must make the transition from learning to read to reading to learn. If they do not, they cannot do their coursework. Each year, as the grade level demands go up, students tend to fall further behind and become outsiders inside the classroom. Being able to read is a necessary skill for both the classroom and for life.

But educators know there are some deep misconceptions around K-3 literacy. So, we’ve provided some facts to help shed light on the truths around student literacy.

Myth: Failure to read is only an education problem.

Fact: Failure to read is both an education and an economic problem. Seven out of every ten prison inmates cannot read above a fourth grade level and 85 percent of teenagers in the juvenile system have difficulty reading. Nearly 90 percent of students who drop out of high school are struggling readers in third grade. And, high school dropouts make up 90 percent of Americans on welfare and 75 percent of citizens receiving food stamps.

Myth: Students can learn to read after third grade without challenge.

Fact: Students rarely catch up if they have not mastered reading by third grade. Students must learn to read in K-3 in order to read to learn in fourth grade and beyond. Reading to learn means comprehending facts in social studies and science, understanding word problems in math and interpreting complex materials in language arts.

Myth: The decision to promote a student to the fourth grade is based on one test score.

Fact: Promotion decisions are based on a comprehensive assessment of the student’s mastery of third grade reading skills. Students have three different opportunities to demonstrate sufficient reading skills for promotion to fourth grade:

  1. Pass, at a minimum level, the state test.
  2. Pass alternative assessment.
  3. Demonstrate sufficient reading skills in a portfolio of independently produced student work.
Myth: Students and parents may be surprised at the end of the third grade year to find the student is not ready to be promoted.

Fact: Retention is the last resort. The fully implemented K-3 Reading program identifies students who are struggling to read as early as Kindergarten, with frequent literacy screenings and parent notification/updates on progress over multiple school years. Students are given individual reading plans, home reading strategies and reading interventions before/during/after school and progress is monitored and shared at frequent intervals. Only those students who still demonstrate a need for the additional time to learn to read are retained in third grade.

Myth: The ability to read by third grade does not have any correlation with the ability to graduate from high school.

Fact: The ability to read by third grade is imperative for a student’s ability to graduate from high school. This includes the years of high school and beyond, to career and/or college. Students who are not reading proficiently in third grade are four times more likely to not graduate high school. Low-income minority students are eight times more likely to drop out of high school. In fact, 88 percent of students who failed to earn a high school diploma were struggling readers in third grade.

Myth: Retention means simple repetition of the third grade.

Fact: Students who repeat third grade are supported with a comprehensive program of intensive intervention. A fully implemented K-3 Reading program is designed to give students every opportunity to be successful. Early literacy screenings and student progress updates are used to determine the student’s learning needs. Students are placed with highly effective teachers and in classrooms to optimize learning. The repeated grade is designed to bring students who are significantly below grade level up to the required level of proficiency to be successful in fourth grade and beyond.

This content originally appeared on ExcelinEd and has been shared on Shaped with permission. Follow them on Twitter @ExcelinEd. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.


Looking for ways to advance the literacy skills of all students in your district, including children living in poverty, English learners, and children with disabilities? Learn more about how HMH can help you achieve the goals of the Comprehensive Literacy State Development, a five-year federal discretionary grant awarded to 13 states.

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