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.”
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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.