To the Editor:
A recent blog post addressed a study concluding that struggling English-language learners would benefit from repeating the 3rd grade (“Study: Repeating 3rd Grade Could Help Struggling English-Learners,” February 1, 2019).
What occurs during the extra year of 3rd grade that causes such growth? One possibility is that repeaters had the chance to develop a pleasure reading habit in English, as 3rd grade tends to include more fiction and less “reading for information,” which happens more in 4th grade.
Published scientific research consistently shows that self-selected pleasure reading (which includes a great deal of fiction) is a strong predictor of proficiency in second languages, impacting vocabulary, spelling, grammar, writing, and reading comprehension. Also, according to a 1993 study by Keith Stanovich, Richard F. West, and Harold R. Mitchell, those who read more know more about social studies and science.
In 2001, researchers Susan Neuman and Donna Celan found that English-language learners from higher socioeconomic backgrounds benefited even more from repeating the 3rd grade. This is probably because middle-class children have far more access to reading material than low-income children have in their homes, schools, and neighborhoods. If this hypothesis is correct, it means we should invest more in librarians and school and public libraries in less affluent communities, and continue to encourage self-selected reading. If we do this, the need for retaining ELLs may be vastly reduced.
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, Calif.
A version of this article appeared in the February 27, 2019 edition of Education Week as A New Hypothesis on Reading