Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Third Grade Reading Guarantee Isn't What Guarantees Readers

In Ohio,  There seems to be this perception among some government officials that the Third Grade Reading Guarantee makes readers.  The Ohio Department of Education's website reads,
"Ohio's Third Grade Guarantee ensures that every struggling reader gets the support he or she needs to be able to learn and achieve."
On my best days, I remind myself that the intent is to be sure all students are reading by third grade and receive the support they need to make that possible, but readers aren't made by mandates and fear; readers are made on laps, in libraries, in classrooms, in reading communities, and with books.  There are days I am saddened by the message we send children as young as five:  "You're not a reader.  What's wrong with you?" as we send out letters and create plans.  There are days that I am discouraged that readers must take tests to prove themselves instead of sharing their recent reads and discoveries.  Most days, however, I'm able to remind myself it is best to set all of that aside and nurture these young learners just beginning their journey down a reading path.

Recently I was in a chat in which the question was asked, "What shifts have you made in K-3 literacy since implementation of the Third Grade Reading guarantee?"  We were teaching reading long before the Third Grade Reading Guarantee.  We were supporting readers and creating explicit plans for support long before this mandate.  As a teacher of reading, my goal is never about passing The Third Grade Reading Guarantee, but instead it is to support readers and help them to take beginning steps into their reading lives.  I dream of readers who don't just pass tests, but read well beyond the school day.  Readers who talk about books with friends.  Readers who stay up later than they are supposed to so they can finish book.  Readers who see the world through different eyes because of the stories they carry within them.

What "guarantees" readers?  There is no magical answer, but here are the steps I find essential in helping readers to grow:
  • Read Aloud:  reading aloud several times a day helps readers to hear the sounds of words, learn the way stories work, have pleasurable conversation around books, and experience new possibilities.
  • Time to read independently:  many of our readers working to catch up to peers have less time to read - and time is what they need most of all.    
  • Books!  Books!  Books!:  classroom libraries full of books entice readers.  I love the energy created when new books come into the classroom library for students to enjoy.  
  • Connections:  helping readers build connections to books, authors, characters, their community, and the global reading community can help increase their desire to read.  
  • Responsive Instruction:  through timely assessments, conferring conversations, and time spent beside readers we can discover what readers have under control and plan next steps.  
  • Ownership:  the more students have choice about the books they will read and ownership over the goals set for their reading, the more likely they are to make strong progress.
As a teacher of reading, I know the stories that go beyond the numbers.  For some of the students who work the hardest, reading doesn't come easily.  It is easy in times of mandates to choose instructional practices that give us short term results instead of staying true to best practices for developing young literate minds.  As teachers of reading, it is our job to walk alongside readers and shine a light on the stories that surround them.  It's our job to stay informed, develop sound pedagogy, and advocate for the young children just beginning their journey into our literate world.


  1. Cathy! Your words come from my heart, as well! Will those in control of mandates and testing and schools ever listen and learn?

  2. I just shared this post with my entire coaching cohort - LOVE it! Thanks for staying true to readers and the love of reading you want to instill. But why doesn't that surprise me at all?! :)

  3. Cathy,
    I am so thankful you share your passion each and everda day with children, educators, parents and legislators! Your voice is from your heart and speaks to what is best for our readers who need to learn to read through a love of reading. You are so right, "No one learns to read from mandates and fear."

  4. Cathy-
    So much truth here. We don't have the Reading Guarantee in Colorado, but we do have the READ ACT, which sounds really similar. I'm sharing this with my teachers and administration this morning.