always heard that first grade, third grade and fifth grade are the "biggies" in
grade school where the new material is introduced and the biggest academic
gains are made, and that in second grade and fourth grade, it's mostly review.
So if a child isn't doing very well in fourth-grade, should I not be concerned,
even though middle school is looming right around the corner?
You should always want your child to do his or her very
best. That goes for all grade levels and situations, but especially in grade
school. Educators warn that the child who is at the bottom in first grade, when
it comes to reading skill, tends to stay there throughout the school career.
That's why so much attention is given to all readers in first grade.
For the first few years of school, struggling readers can
usually get by. The reading material is simple, the lessons are repeated often,
and intensive remedial help is common. But there comes a time, usually right
around fourth grade, when pupils are expected to stand on their own two feet,
academically, and the material starts getting harder. In fourth grade, the
focus is no longer on "learning to read." Now, it is on "reading to learn."
Meanwhile, 4th grade teachers tend to expect that
the pupils "get it," quit babying or nurturing the students so much, and might
move too fast for the students who can't keep up with the mainstream.
It is a sad indictment of the way our nation has chosen to
teach reading (the failed Whole Language philosophy) that 44% of fourth-graders
have reading skills that are labeled "below basic" level by the National
Assessment of Educational Progress.
It's as if good readers shift into a higher gear, since they
can easily pick up new words, grammar rules and spelling eccentricities,
building on their existing reading capabilities. But slower readers with less
powerful language skills start to fall further and further behind as the
emphasis shifts into fluency (how many pages you can read in an hour) and
comprehension (how well you've understood and remember what you've read).
This becomes so noticeable that there's a name for the
syndrome: "fourth-grade slump." It came from the late Jeanne S. Chall, a
Harvard University reading expert. She found that the slump was worse among low-income
children who had not been exposed to a vocabulary-rich environment in grade
school. So she and others campaigned against the simplistic "basal readers"
that are used in so many grade schools in place of more challenging traditional
and classic works of children's literature.
She also fought for better phonics instruction to help
children "decode" unfamiliar words, but often, once that element of their
reading skill package was repaired, a new deficiency would become apparent
because of the years that went by without the child decoding as well as he or
she should have been. It's just another example of the cascading consequences
to our children and our nation that our schools are not teaching reading
correctly, with phonics-only strategies, in kindergarten and first and second
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is among those
researching all phases of reading disabilities, including this problem, at such
research facilities as the University of Colorado at Boulder, Florida State
University, the University of Houston, and Baltimore's Kennedy Krieger
Institute, a research and education facility that focuses on children with
The project is being funded through the NIH's National
Institute of Child Health and Human Development, focusing on increasing
interest in "response to intervention," or RTI, a teaching framework intended
to catch and solve academic problems before they become too serious.
education reform group in Cincinnati and northern Kentucky are focusing on
grade-specific situations and needs, including what the American Federation of
Teachers has called the "fourth-grade plunge." See their overview of
fourth-grade challenges on: