Reading scores

By Quinn TownsendAlaska Policy Forum

Ten years ago, Mississippi implemented a statewide early literacy policy similar to the Alaska Reads Act enacted here in 2022. One controversial portion of both bills is a retention requirement — in Mississippi, if a third-grader continues to read below grade level after a series of earlier interventions, that child cannot progress to the fourth grade until the child demonstrates they can read at grade level. 

New research from Boston University has found that students retained in the third grade under Mississippi’s reading program attained higher English language arts (ELA) scores over time. In fact, by sixth grade, students who were retained and received additional reading help had “substantial and sustained literacy gains on their ELA scores compared to their peers who made the fourth-grade promotion cut-off.” According to a press release, “[t]hese literacy gains were especially significant among Black and Hispanic students. Students who were retained did not appear to experience other negative consequences as a result of retention.”

In real terms, this means that third-grade students who needed additional time and assistance learning to read before progressing to fourth grade got the help that they needed, which resulted in stronger reading skills through sixth grade and no observed negative effects.  

Alaska should take these new findings under advisement as the state finalizes regulations for the Alaska Reads Act.

Research suggests Alaska should not simply advance failing readers to the next grade

Quinn Townsend
Quinn Townsend is the Policy Manager at Alaska Policy Forum with an M.S. in Resource Economics and Management from West Virginia University. Previously, she worked as the Economic Research Analyst at The Buckeye Institute. She is a graduate of the Heritage Foundation’s strategic communications fellowship and a Young Voices Contributor.


  • Neil DeWitt says:

    Thank you! I’ve said this for years and it always falls on deaf ears. Wisconsin never automatically moved you forward and they did pretty hood in these tests. Alaska needs to do the same. Yes underclass students will pick on you and shun you but in the end, by the time you graduate, you’ll be the top 10% of the class.

  • Elizabeth Henry says:

    Grade levels were devised only for ‘herd’ management and the need to organize large numbers of students into groups foe that purpose. Children do progress at different rates despite whatever ‘grade’ they are in. Sadly there is an element of ‘stigma’ when a child is held back, or pulled out for remediation. Students also have different strengths and the late reader could be a whiz a math. All of this makes me glad we homeschooled as we focused on goals and not grade levels. Not until high school did I organize official grade requirement transcripts and records as we looked toward college prep, and fulfilling performance scholarship requirements. With that said, no need to hold my couple students back a grade or pull one out for remediation. We just did what needed to be done and worked toward the long term academic goals.
    Lastly, one of ours was a very late reader – age nine. That one when on to be the most voracious reader and an excellent writer.

  • Mary says:

    Well stated, Elizabeth. As a retired elementary teacher, I always advocated for earlier retention if it was to be done at all. Third grade is generally too late. Too many children, especially boys, start school too young and too immature to grasp the increased requirements of today’s schools. Sorry, Parents, but your little Johnny needs time to play, run around and explore his environment before being forced into a chair and a book.