Q:

The teacher just told me our third-grader could be retained because she is reading below grade level. The teacher says she will need better reading skills next year in order to handle subjects like social studies and science, where she will be reading to learn. Will retention help her? -- Solution Needed

A:

Starting in 2004, only two states -- Florida and Ohio -- used third-grade reading level as the gatekeeper to promotion. Today, 16 states and the District of Columbia are now requiring schools to retain students who are not reading on grade level by the third grade.

It is hard to say if retaining your child in third grade next year will truly make any difference in her reading level. What has caused her to read below grade level? Was there a problem in first or second grade? Can she use phonics and context to decode words?

Before deciding on retention (if you have this choice), you definitely need to ask the school district to test your child so you are able to find out if she has any learning problems that can be addressed now, this summer and next year in fourth grade. Without the testing information and ruling out specific learning problems, no help to improve her reading skills will be effective.

If the school district is not willing to do the testing, you need to see if the local university does testing in their educational psychology department, because outside testing agencies may cost several hundred dollars.

Whether the outcome is retention in third grade or off to fourth grade, you want to get her reading issues addressed as soon as possible with help at school and/or private tutoring. You can do your part in this by making a commitment to read to and with her every evening. The more she reads, the better a reader she hopefully will become. Practice, practice, practice and more practice should be your mantra.

It would also be helpful to visit our Dear Teacher website, DearTeacher.com, and use "Find your child's reading level" on the home page. This will give you a quick idea of her reading level.