Washington Post Live focused on early childhood literacy on Tuesday, with governors and education leaders from several key states joining the discussion on Reading Milestones. Here are updates posted throughout the event.

Washington Post Live event on child literacy: conclusions

There is no one answer to solving the U.S.’s child illiteracy crisis, but state education chiefs at the Washington Post Live event on Reading Milestones echoed several of the same suggestions for solutions.

Their answers included a mix of social services, professional development for teachers, customized parent outreach and involvement of the business community. They also suggested rewarding teachers for improving educational outcomes and focusing on teacher quality and educational leadership.

This closes the live blog for the Washington Post Live forum on child literacy. If you missed the conversation, video from the event will be available on the Washington Post Live Web site, with additional coverage online and in tomorrow’s edition of The Washington Post.

The link between absenteeism and achievement

Panelists said schools need to engage students and reach out to parents to ensure students are attending school. There is a link between students who are chronically absent and their success in reading at grade level and dropout rates, they said.

“By sixth grade, students who attend school less than 80 percent of the time…have only a 10 to 20 percent chance of graduating on time,” according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Mississippi Gov. Bryant’s controversial remarks on mothers in the workplace

Washington Post education writer Valerie Strauss has a post about Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant’s remarks during the panel on mothers in the workplace. In response to a question about how America became “so mediocre” in regard to educational outcomes, Bryant said: “I think both parents started working. The mom got in the workplace.”

Read the full story here.

Md. superintendent: Retaining third-graders can also be harmful

Making students repeat third grade if they aren’t proficient readers can also be detrimental to students, Maryland Superintendent of Schools Lillian Lowery said. She said the instruction and interventions for students must be different if they aren’t promoted to the fourth grade.

“Research also says that [retaining students] can exacerbate the student’s problems and cause that same dropout rate that we’re seeing if we pass them on unprepared,” Lowery said.


Should third-graders be held back if they can’t read?

In Ohio, students who aren’t reading on-grade level by third grade will be retained in that subject, but they can be promoted to fourth grade in other subjects such as science, Ohio Superintendent of Public Instruction Richard Ross.

“Most educators know that all kids don’t read at the same level anyway,” Ross said. “Having that differentiation of instruction should happen.”

Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction Patricia Wright said students behind in reading can be promoted to the fourth grade, but only if there is a plan in place to give them additional instruction to help them improve.

“Social promotion is not acceptable, but at the same time retaining children without providing the intervention they need is not acceptable,” Wright said.

Superintendents from six states join the discussion

State superintendents from Georgia, Washington, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia and South Carolina have joined the discussion.

Final thoughts from the governors

To improve child literacy in five years, several things must happen, the governors said.

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant: There must be more school choice available for parents. And the community must realize that it’s not just the responsibility of schools to boost reading success. Parents and businesses must get involved as well. “It’s got to be a holistic approach” to solve the problem.

Delaware Gov. Jack Markell: High quality preschools, high standards for education, ensuring teaching is treated as a profession and focusing on data will be the key issues.

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez: “Don’t wait to the third grade to decide” whether students should repeat a grade level because they aren’t reading proficiently.

Gov. Markell: Education begins before child hits school

Delaware Gov. Jack Markell said making sure education starts even before pre-kindergarten is important to reading success. It has been a key focus for improving education in his state.

“There’s so much science about brain development that those first years are so incredibly important,” Markell said. “You can’t fix third-grade literacy by focusing only on third-graders.”


Gov. Martinez: Assessing students regularly matters

At some schools in New Mexico, students receive daily printouts that tell them what grade-level they are reading at, with many third-graders proudly bragging to her that they read at fifth-grade levels, Gov. Susana Martinez said.

“You have to assess children so you can capture that child when they fall behind by two weeks or three weeks, instead of six months or nine months,” Martinez said.

Repeating the third grade

It is a disservice to promote students to the fourth grade if they’re not proficient readers, governors on the panel said. Students who aren’t proficient readers struggle in class, and then they get discouraged, leading to high dropout rates.

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant said he repeated the third grade and was given a Sherlock Holmes book to help improve his reading.

“I knew if I could do that, I could do anything,” Bryant said of finishing the book. “We’ve got to give these children the right and the opportunity to achieve at the highest level.”


The U.S.’s child literacy problem

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant: The role of the parent is important. “In today’s society parents are so challenged. They’re working overtime.”

Delaware Gov. Jack Markell: “We need a sense of urgency.” There should be a focus on elevating teaching as a profession and focusing on data.

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez: “Education became adult driven, not children driven. We think throwing more money at the problem is going to solve the problem.”

Governors: High standards, early childhood education important

Governors from Mississippi, Delaware and New Mexico said early childhood education, improving professional development for teachers and focusing on achievement data have been important elements to improving on-grade-level reading in their states.

It is also important to expect more from teachers and students, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant said. He said some states had lower standards for what is considered “proficient,” a problem that will be fixed by the adoption of Common Core State Standards.

“Raise the standards and raise the bar in terms of what is proficient,” Bryant said.


Literacy and low-income students

Students from low-income families are more likely to miss the milestone of reading proficiently by the third grade, said Ralph Smith, managing director of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.

Low-income black, Hispanic and Native American students are more likely to score below proficient on the National Assessment of Educational Progress at a rate of about 87 percent. That rate is much higher than the roughly 73 percent for low-income white and Asian students.

Why is third-grade reading important?

The transition from third grade to fourth grade marks when students stop “learning to read” and start “reading to learn,” experts say. Students who don’t master the basics of reading at a young age struggle when they are introduced to new subjects in fourth grade, according to a report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Students who aren’t reading at grade level before starting fourth grade are four times more likely to drop out of school, according to research from sociologist Donald Hernandez.

Washington Post education writer Valerie Strauss explained the importance of the issue when more than 150 cities and counties pushed for early child literacy in 2011.

Join Reading Milestones forum on social media

Want to join the discussion on early childhood literacy but couldn’t make it to the Washington Post Live event in person?

Engage in the conversation on Twitter via #thirdgradereading.

Who’s joining the Washington Post Live discussion today?

Governors and state education chiefs from nine states will discuss the nation’s literacy crisis with Washington Post Live editor Mary Jordan.

Policymakers have urged educators and states to adopt the goal of all children reading  proficiently by the third grade.

Here’s a closer look at who is joining the event to discuss child literacy efforts in their states. For full bios, go here.

9 to 10 a.m.

Gov. Phil Bryant (R-Miss.)

Gov. Jack Markell (D-Del.)

Gov. Susana Martinez (R-N.M.)

10 to 11 a.m.

Richard Ross
Superintendent of Public Instruction, Ohio

Randy Dorn
Superintendent of Public Instruction, Washington (state)

John Barge
State Superintendent of Schools, Georgia

Mick Zais
State Superintendent of Education, South Carolina

Patricia Wright
Superintendent of Public Instruction, Virginia

Lillian Lowery
State Superintendent of Schools, Maryland