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Columbia, SC (WLTX) By Robert Kittle Third-graders in South Carolina who aren't reading at grade level by the end of the school year would be automatically held back, under a bill introduced this week in the state Senate.

Sen. Harvey Peeler, R-Gaffney, the sponsor of the bill, says the students would do summer work or get intensive reading instruction the following school year to try to get them back to grade level. His bill is called the "South Carolina Read to Succeed Act".

"I think if you ask if there's a common denominator in school dropouts, high school dropouts, it's the fact that they have a problem reading," he says. "This captures those kids early, gives them the special attention they need."

He says Florida started doing this more than 10 years ago and has seen great success. A new report by the Palmetto Policy Forum, the conservative think tank started by former U.S. Senator Jim DeMint, found that low-income Florida students score better than all South Carolina students on a national 4th-grade reading test.

In 1998, before Florida passed these education reforms, its fourth-graders scored three points lower than South Carolina's on the National Assessment of Education Progress, known as NAEP. After the reforms, including ending social promotion, Florida's scores started going up and quickly passed South Carolina's. In 2011, Florida's fourth-graders scored 10 points higher than South Carolina's on the NAEP reading test.

Peeler says the only objections he's heard are from people worried about the stigma associated with children being held back a grade. But he says, "The greatest stigma would be, and greatest tragedy, is to socially promote these kids that can't read. That's where the real stigma's going to come. I'd rather have a year-long stigma than a lifetime stigma."

Kitty Hurdle, a mother of a 6-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter, agrees. "If it were my child, I would be for it just so he could get the help that he needed. I wouldn't be as worried about the stigma, just because I want him to be able to read and succeed in life."

Her mother-in-law, Anita Hurdle, is a teacher, who says third grade is the right time to hold students back if they're not reading at grade level. "From then on, you really are not getting reading training," she says. "You're getting a lot of things to read, a lot of things to use reading comprehension on and a lot of writing. But the real reading training comes in preschool through third grade, so it's really important that they are able to get it there and, if not, to wait one more year."

The phrase often used by educators is that, in grades K through 3, students learn to read; after that, they read to learn.

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