Editorial: Who is failing whom?

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The Winston-Salem Journal broke the story over the weekend — those rotten SOBs — that up to half of Forsyth County School’s third-graders will have to attend summer school because they can’t read at grade level.

Arika Herron reported that last year, under half of the system’s third-graders were able to pass an end-of-grade test. This year, state law mandates a summer reading camp for any third-grader who fails it.

And even though the kids have several chances to pass the test, even though there are exceptions for some students and exemptions granted to others, the school district plans on taking in 1,600 to 2,000 of the 4,000 kids scheduled to finish this term.

And it’s hard to know who to be angry at.

Third grade is an important year, when kids stop simply learning to read but are reading to learn, as the teachers like to say. Aptitude is measured in reading comprehension tests — usually a couple paragraphs followed by some multiple-choice questions. By the end of third grade, kids are supposed to be able to understand what the words mean, which they can only do if they know how the words sound.

So let’s get mad at the first- and second-grade teachers for not teaching half — half! — of their students to read and graduating them anyway. This is why the new Read to Achieve law was put in place.

But we should be upset with our state government, too, who have crammed our public classrooms with too many students and cut teacher pay to dis-incentivize our best and brightest from entering the profession.

The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School Board bears much of the blame here, too, for allowing a culture in which it is acceptable that half of its third-graders don’t understand what they’re reading, if they can read at all.

Plenty of ire should be directed at parents who neglect the education of their children. Schools can’t — and shouldn’t — do it alone.

Frankly, the only ones not to blame here are the kids, who are, after all, children and have no choice but to let adults determine the quality of their education.

We’re not doing too hot a job of it. Fortunately, when adults fail, we don’t have to go to summer school.