Last night, I went to see Rosemary’s Baby as it was meant to be seen: In 35mm on the big screen. It was kinda scary, but so far-fetched, that it was also a little funny. As I sit down to reflect on this Halloween day, it feels appropriate to write about something that I am truly afraid of. Although I try to steer clear of fear and cynicism as a professional educator, there are things that come up every once in awhile that make me shiver.

Right now it’s the “innovative” (ADE’s word) new policy called “Move On When Reading”. Now this may be another example of a monster being born at the department of education, but unlike Rosemary’s Baby, this policy is not far fetched; in fact, it is going to be enforced the year after next. And it’s not even a little funny.

Move On When Reading will mandate schools to hold back any student in the third grade that falls far below on the state reading test (the test we currently call “AIMS”). Students that are held back will have lots of opportunities to meet the standards, like online reading instruction and summer school.

When I first came across this little piece of legislation, I thought to myself “Great! They’ll catch them when they are young and we won’t have kids reading so far below reading level at the high school anymore!” Finally. Some smart policy.

And then I began to reflect on the kids at my 9-12 high school that have repeatedly fallen far below on the AIMS reading test. No surprise, most of them qualify for free or reduced lunch. In other words, they are poor. Calm down Michelle Rhee and Geoffrey Canada. I’m not making excuses. Just pointing out some interesting correlations. I’m not the first person to suggest a strong correlation between poverty and illiteracy. This topic has been widely researched for years.

Their financial reality did not suddenly appear once they began kindergarten. It was most likely a fact on the day they were born. And it would be another 5 years before they got their first teacher. Their peers, on the other hand, who were born into middle class families, would BEGIN kindergarten knowing their letters, some of them already reading.

These are the kids that, starting in 2013-2014 will be held back if they fall far below on the state reading test.

It is not the intent of this policy that scares me. I agree that our system needs to be way more proactive in identifying kids that are at-risk of not reading at grade level. What terrifies me is that our policy makers continue to be so short sighted. The risk factors for not reading on grade level will present themselves years before a child steps foot into his/her first classroom.

Why wait until 3rd grade?

Where is the summer school for a 6 month old who is not being read to each night?


Eve Rifkin

Eve Rifkin

Tucson, Arizona

I have been an educator for over 20 years. As a founding co-director of City High School, I have held a variety of leadership and teaching roles, including academic director, humanities teacher, and principal. I am currently the Director of College Access and support students as they envision their lives after high school.

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