South Carolina's Education Oversight Committee is considering a number of new initiatives for state public schools – among them retaining third-graders who are struggling in reading.

All of the proposals would still need study and approval from the full EOC Board of Directors before moving on the S.C. General Assembly for possible legislative actions.

Overall, the EOC is looking at underperforming schools and finding new ways to operate them.

The panel recommending third-grade retention could also include summer reading camps and required summer school.

If the Aiken County School District was required to hold third-graders back for reading difficultly, “We would have to do something completely different,” said King Laurence, the Aiken County School District's associate superintendent for instruction.

“What we have to do is differentiate, whether it's computer assistance or other kinds of virtual learning,” he said. “We could change strategies, maybe changing the teacher. It wouldn't be more of the same.”

However, Laurence has concerns about retaining struggling third-graders as a required practice. If they're held back once, he said, the students are less likely to graduate. If they're held back twice, nearly three-fourths won't finish high school.

“We can't wait till third grade to retain kids,” Laurence said. “We're addressing interventions earlier than that, looking at kindergarten and first grade.”

From the time she was a teacher, Aiken Elementary Principal Becky Koelker has focused on the critical importance of reading.

“Retention shouldn't be based on one test score,” she said. “We should be looking at growth as the child makes progress. That should be taken into account. To me, retention is based on an individual decision based on what's best for the child.”

EOC board members and staffers are exploring ways to shift money from some programs to others. If they're going to do so, Koelker said, the current half-day 4-year-old kindergarten should be expanded to full-day for more children.

Tracy Holsenback taught first grade at East Aiken School of the Arts for several years before moving to 4-K with two half-day classes last fall. On Wednesday, her afternoon students were reciting numbers 1 to 30 or more by memory. They also could respond with the sounds from all of the alphabet letters.

Each year, children with the greatest need at that age qualify for the 4-K program.

“I love doing this,” Holsenback said. “It's just about where (5-K) kindergarten was in the past. I really thought I would have to push hard, but they're really doing well.”

Yet a full-day 4-K class would provide even greater opportunities, she said, giving children a better opportunity to get where they need to be for kindergarten.