High school seniors might have to show they’ve mastered certain subjects and teachers may be paid based on their performance, not their seniority, if legislators endorse Governor Branstad’s new “blueprint” for education

The plan also calls for an end to so-called “social promotion” of third-graders. That idea is modeled after a program in Florida which tests third graders and only those who can read may go on to fourth grade. Linda Fandel (FAN-dull) is the governor’s “special assistant” on education policy.

“When I first heard about it, the idea of retaining third-graders, for me personally, was not very appealing,” Fandel says. “When I looked to see what Florida had done, however, it looked to be a very successful program.”

In 2009, nearly six percent of Florida third-graders were held back to repeat third grade. The program’s been in place in Florida since 2002 and Fandel says Florida fourth graders are scoring higher on reading tests than Iowa fourth graders.

“All the Hispanic children, cumulatively, are reading at a higher rate than all Iowa children,” Fandel says. “And many of those children in Florida are, were English language learners.”

The prospect of being held back in third grade is something that drives home the importance of reading, according to Fandel.

“What the program did was to use this very strong stick, a big stick, of third grade retention to get everyone’s attention from educators to parents on the importance of making sure kids read before they get out of third grade,” Fandel says.

Fandel cites research data which indicates third grade is the time when most children have reached a stage in their development when they should be reading.  Iowa Department of Education director Jason Glass puts it this way: “Third grade is the transition year from ‘learning to read’ to ‘reading to learn,’ so that’s why you why you make the stand that all kids need to be literate by the end of third grade.”

In addition, Glass is an advocate of requiring all high school juniors to take the ACT, so the data could be used to judge how they’ve mastered certain subjects.  Glass says having an ACT score may be a good push for some students who might not have considered college.