OK, so maybe it is not an epidemic but it is an old problem- fourth grade students typically experience decreased fluency and eventually reading comprehension scores suffer a decline; there is documented proof dating back to over 50 years.
Why is that?
Not only does this happen to many students, it is most prevalent in students from low-income families, notice that Socio-Economic Status (SES) is a factor.
Why is that?
Well, I have been reading upon the problem and several things have come to light, but the main ones seem to be that third grade students don’t get to read expository text – facts, real word information, you know the stuff that is in textbooks. Instead they read smooth flowing stories; reading changes from learning to read to reading to learn both of which required different skills; and most kids from low income families don’t have access to expository material for any of several reasons.
Then when they get to fourth grade they are expected to know a lot more than they learned in the third grade and don’t get me started on the stuff they forgot during the summer (that’s for a different time).
Every time a politician opens his or her mouth about education, they spout off about “closing the achievement gap.” What the heck is the achievement gap?
According to noted research scientist, Dr. Keith Stanovich, Canada Research Chair of Applied Cognitive Science at the Department of Human Development and Applied Psychology, University of Toronto, it is effectively described as the “Matthew Effect” in reference to the biblical verse at Matthew 13: 12 “For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away” (English Standard Version).
Here him discuss it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lF6VKmMVWEc
Visit Website Children of the Code to learn more: http://www.childrenofthecode.org/
Essentially, with fourth grade students if they don’t effectively crack the reading code they will have problems when the type of reading material changes. They can bluff their way through but only for so long. If they don’t build a vast vocabulary of words and their meaning or have the reading skills to figure out what new words mean, they will struggle. Poor kids have the added challenge because they are typically not exposed to a vocabulary rich environment and TV and conversations do not provide the amount of rare words required to build the large vocabulary required, they need informational text for that. Good sources are specialty magazines such as National Geographic for Kids, Kids Discover, Zoobooks, Times, Newsweek, Odyssey, newspapers, and other informational magazines and text. These cost money and often children from poor families don’t have the money to purchase magazines, or expository books and local community and school libraries are often under budgetary constraints, so these and other reading material of interest to kids are not available.
Several researchers have pointed out that fourth grade and above teachers don’t have time to teach reading. Other research have shown that reading is essential across the curriculum for student success and many content areas require specialized reading skills such as that needed to read math and science with their unique vocabulary. Hence, we have a dilemma. Students need continued reading through all the grades – teachers don’t have the time necessary to teach content specific reading. Or do they?
As for the fourth grade slump, well… the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) says that across the country 4th grade scores are up, but the same data says that both 8th grade and 11th grade scores are lower than 4th grade scores and is on the decline. Does it seem we are taking one step forward and two steps back?
Remember I said that teachers don’t have time to teach reading, that’s because they have to “cover the standards” which leave no time to actually teach science, social studies, and other subjects that grab students’ attention and have the added benefit of academic vocabulary –those specialized and rare words. Plus the world is much bigger than the classroom and a whole lot more exciting; kids are digitally connected via iPods, iPads, smartphones, social media, and a host of video and other digital content and schools just have not kept up.
The bottom line, if left unchecked (it has been going on for over 50 years) the “4th grade slump” morphs into the “8th grade cliff” or full blown achievement gap.
In 2007 or somewhere thereabouts, the National Institutes of Health handed out $30 million to fund five years of research devoted to studying questions related to reading disabilities as well as the “4th grade slump”. The institutions leading the charge: University of Colorado at Boulder, Florida State University, University of Houston, and Baltimore’s Kennedy Krieger Institute. Kennedy Krieger Institute is charged with delving into the “4th grade slump.”
As my graduate thesis is on the “4th grade slump” and if they got the money in 2007 then we should have some preliminary results trickling out beginning hopefully this year (keeping my fingers cross) but chances are it will be at least two years before we hear anything thing. But as I have noted, researchers have been going on about this for neigh going on 50 years, so what’s another year or two.
Teachers don’t have time, but tutors do and can make a difference in the 4th grade slump and avert the 8th grade cliff by providing one-on-one learning opportunities that extends the classroom instruction with lessons specifically tailored to your child’s needs: http://www.wyzant.com/Tutors/TutoringByGail