Kids Begin Dropping Out of College in 3rd Grade

Why Kids Fail College in Elementary School & What to Do About it Now!

Why kids drop out of college in 3rd grade

3rd Grade College Dropout

Have you ever heard the expression, “He dropped out of college in the third grade?” Or “Kids begin dropping out of college in third grade.

Strange as it sounds, it’s real.

Dropping out of college — and failing to succeed in school in general — really does begin in grade school. There are many reasons for this. In order to break this failure cycle, the reasons needed to be identified and addressed.

The most common reason? Failing to learn how to read because of un-diagnosed and untreated learning disabilities.

While some children pick up reading on their own before they begin school, most children learn to read between the first and third grades. Let’s take a look at “Johnny”, a youngster who is about to finish third grade and is struggling with reading. (Suggested reading: Why Johnny Can’t Read: and what you can do about it by Rudolf Flesch)

Johnny didn’t pick up reading in first grade but he did not stand out because they were others in the same situation. By second grade there were fewer, and by third grade Johnny started to notice that almost everybody was reading but him.

Add to this his growing awareness of self that develops around this time, Johnny begins to see himself as “different.” In time, different morphs into “dumb,” with all the emotional baggage associated with this label. For Johnny, and all the Johnnies, learning to read is challenging enough. Add to that the emotional component, and the challenge grows exponentially.

It’s not too late.

Johnny isn’t a third grade college dropout yet. But, he’s on his way, because another major obstacle is about to make the scene.

“Learn to Read” vs. “Read to Learn”

Remember the punchy little adage that children “learn to read” in the first three grades and after that, they “read to learn.”

Now Johnny is in the fourth grade (or beyond) and expectations have changed. Now he is expected to use reading as a tool to learn new things: math, science, social studies, etc.

Now it’s official.

Johnny is a grade school college dropout!

Here are some statistics…

“One in six children who are not reading proficiently in third grade do not graduate from high school on time, a rate four times greater than that for proficient readers,” according to the Campaign for Grade Level Reading.

“Children who aren’t reading proficiently by fourth grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school, and according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, only 34 percent of America’s fourth graders read at grade level.” New York Times, The Link Between Reading Level and Dropout Rates By KJ Dell’Antonia (March 19, 2012)

As this shows, Johnny has lots of company. Let’s explore what should be done and what shouldn’t be done to break this failure chain.

Let’s start with a big shouldn’t; retention. The short answer to the question, “should we retain Johnny?” is NO! MORE here.

teaching johnny to readMost likely, Johnny’s difficulty is due to dyslexia, a reading disorder.  (What is Dyslexia?) Or he may have an attentional issue, ADHD, or a language disorder. Whatever the diagnosis is, Johnny needs intervention by skillful and creative reading personnel to help him overcome these disabilities. And, while not necessarily easy to accomplish, once the obstacles are dealt with, reading, and learning in general, can happen.

If Johnny is allowed to fall through the cracks of the educational system, and his issues are not dealt with, repeating one or more grade levels will only make matters worse. He’ll be a year older than his classmates and still will be unable to learn, as he’ll still be hampered by the same obstacles. The emotional baggage thus created will start to become insurmountable.

Retention, used carefully, does have its place when the issue is limited to things related to delayed development. Time to mature will help in this case. Time alone does little, if anything, to make undiagnosed and untreated disabilities go away.

Teaching Johnny to Read

That’s take a look at what should be done to help Johnny learn how to read.

  1. Johnny needs to be noticed. Teachers (and parents and other adults in the child’s life) need to be on the lookout for telltale signs of difficulty. This is not as easy as it sounds because of the number of children in most classes.
  2. Johnny needs to be referred to a reading specialist or learning disability specialist to be screened for possible learning disabilities.
  3. If the screening suggests there are disabilities, Johnny needs to be tested.
  4. If testing shows that there are learning disabilities, appropriate remediation needs to begin. The sooner the better.
  5. Dealing with learning disabilities is an art as well as a science. For best results the remediation needs to be appropriate; it needs to match the child’s needs.

Let’s explore the word appropriate. Appropriate remediation gets results. A child with dyslexia can learn to read with effective remediation. Here’s where the “art” comes in. Remediation that would help one child may not be useful for another. Placing Johnny in front of a computer one hour a day doing phonics drill may not help at all. The same may be said about doing phonics drill in workbooks. The adults involved in Johnny’s remediation need to monitor whether these hour a day activities are producing useful results. If they are not producing results, alternative remediation strategies need to be provided.

Let’s add one more number to our list.

  1. Johnny, make that all the Johnnies, need to be engaged in the remediation process.

When children are engaged in the remediation process they are active and willing participants. If Johnny is engaged, he is likely to stay focused, which substantially increases the likelihood of success.

In summary, obstacles to learning can be identified and overcome. This is not to imply that it is easy to find the causes of learning difficulties. But the future rewards are so great, it’s worth the effort.

Johnny need not become a statistic. With help, Johnny can become an academic success, not a third grade college dropout.

Do you have questions? We’d like to hear from you and continue this conversation. Please leave a comment below.


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