For years, public school critics and reformers of all persuasions have labeled the end of the third grade as the time when kids should be able to read. Why the third grade? Why not the second, or the first? What are children doing in first and second grades if not being taught how to read? Spending their time on sex education? Playing with computers?
The reason for selecting the third grade is that children are not taught how to read in the first and second grades. They are instead taught to memorize a few dozen frequently used, mostly-one-syllable words, so they can pretend they are reading, a practice that deceives and cheats students and their parents. When they get to the third grade and are given multi-syllable words, the kids can't cut it. They haven't been taught phonics so they don't have a clue how to sound out long words, and their scores nosedive on international tests.
Schools that are really serious about teaching children to read should teach them phonics in the first grade, so they can read words like caterpillar, helicopter and toothbrush. The children who have a difficult time should be given extra help in the first grade. That is the time to hold them back, not in the third grade. The failure of schools to teach children to read was fully described in Rudolf Flesch's landmark book Why Johnny Can't Read. Unfortunately, his book is all still true.
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