Early Warning: Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters

“The relative decline of American education is untenable for our economy, unsustainable for our democracy, and unacceptable for our children, and we cannot afford to let it continue.”
— President Barack Obama

“All skills begin with the basics of reading and math, which are supposed to be learned in the early grades of our schools. Yet for too long, for too many children, those skills were never mastered.”
— President George W. Bush

Among all fourth graders who took the National assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading test last year, two-thirds (67%) read at a level below proficiency. One-third (33%) could not even read at the minimal level and scored “below basic.” In Kansas, which ranked 17th among the states in the test, 65% of all fourth graders scored below a proficient level in reading.

These absolutely dismal results have implications beyond the elementary grades. As the authors of the new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation suggest, “Reading proficiently by the end of the third grade matters – a lot.”

“Reading proficiently by the end of the third grade . . . can be a make-or-break benchmark in a child’s educational development. Up until the end of third grade, most children are learning to read. Beginning in the fourth grade, however, they are reading to learn, using their skills to gain more information in subjects such as math and science, to solve problems, to think critically about what they are learning, and act upon and share that knowledge in the world around them. Up to half of the printed fourth-grade curriculum is incomprehensible to students who read below that grade level, according to the Children’s Reading Foundation. And three quarters of students who are poor readers in third grade will remain poor readers in high school, according to researchers at Yale University.”

The consequences, for the individual child and for the larger society, are grim. “Not surprisingly, students with relatively low literacy achievement tend to have more behavioral and social problems in subsequent grades and higher rates of retention in grade. The National Research Council asserts that ‘academic success, as defined by high school graduation, can be predicted with reasonable accuracy by knowing someone’s reading skill at the end of third grade. A person who is not at least a modestly skilled reader by that time is unlikely to graduate from high school.”

And what does that mean? “In 2007, nearly 6.2 million young people (16% of the 16-24 age group) were high school dropouts. Every student who does not complete high school costs our society an estimated $260,000 in lost earnings, taxes, and productivity.”

For much, much more, see the 62-page report Early Warning: Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters.

The Washington Post also offers a brief analysis of the report in Study Says More Students Struggling With Reading at End of Pivotal Third Grade.

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Published in: on May 20, 2010 at 11:15 am  Comments (1)  

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  1. I enjoyed reading your post. The progess of students’ performances in our schools all over the country is a passion of mine. Finding or creating new strategies ‘that work’ is essential. Most students must be able to read properly by the end of the third grade and actually these students would be more advanced if this process was complete at the end of second grade. I believe it would make other transitions of learning much easier throughout the future grades. In reference to education, the stakes have always been high and the standards of our country excelling and being competitive with other countries is important. We should in no form or fashion consider lowering the bar for our students just so we can look good on paper. The school report card may look good but what really lies before the surface? Are we setting our futures up for failure? How many of these same students that pass the mandated tests actually will be equipted with the right tools to continue on toward graduation, entering college, the armed services, or even the work force as productive citizens?


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