Ensuring that students are proficient in reading by the end of the third grade is central to a child's success in school, life-long earning potential, and ability to contribute to the nation's economy, a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation KIDS COUNT project finds.
The report, Early Warning! Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters (62 pages, PDF), cites data from the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress, which found that two-thirds of fourth-graders overall and four out of five fourth-graders from low-income families are not proficient in reading. Although NAEP scores have shown incremental increases over the past fifteen years for most students, disparities in reading achievement persist across economic, racial, and ethnic groups. Indeed, the share of low-income black, Hispanic, and Native-American students who score below grade-level proficiency on the NAEP reading test is much higher (89 percent, 87 percent, and 85 percent, respectively) than the share of low-income white or Asian/Pacific Islander students (76 percent and 70 percent).
To close that gap, the report recommends developing a coherent system of early care and education that aligns, integrates, and coordinates what happens from birth through third grade; encouraging and enabling parents, families, and caregivers to play roles as co-producers of good outcomes for their children; investing in results-driven initiatives to transform low-performing schools into high-quality teaching and learning environments; and developing and utilizing solutions to two significant contributors to the under-achievement of children from low-income families: chronic absence from school and summer learning loss.
The publication of the report kicks off an AECF effort supported by America's Promise Alliance, Mission: Readiness, United Way Worldwide, and other groups to promote a renewed emphasis on reading success.
"Until third grade, children are learning to read. After third grade, they also are reading to learn. When kids are not reading by fourth grade, they almost certainly get on a glide path to poverty," said AECF executive vice president Ralph Smith. "Poor reading test scores are profoundly disappointing to all of us who see school success and high school graduation as beacons in the battle against intergenerational poverty."