Third Grade Reading Correlates with High School Graduation Rates

Updated March 14, 2017 |
Third Grade Reading Correlates with High School Graduation Rates
How well your child reads in third grade could determine his or her success in high school. Learn about the reading study and how you can help your child excel in third grade, high school, and beyond.
It may seem that your child has barely graduated from cut and paste projects in school before reading and math facts take center stage in their education. Suddenly, you find yourself opening books every night, listening to your child sound out words, and helping them understand the stories they are studying. Does your effort really matter in the overall academic success of your child?
It turns out that the time you spend reading with your kids might have a much greater impact on their life success than you realize. According to a new report published by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, "Early Warning! Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters," your child's reading proficiency by third grade has a direct correlation to his success in high school and beyond. The study found a link between those students reading below the proficient range in third grade and the likelihood they would graduate from high school.
Low Income = Low Proficiency
One of the most startling aspects of the study is the low proficiency rates among low-income students. Many of the children who are not able to read well by third grade end up dropping out of high school, thus directly impacting their ability to raise themselves above the poverty level of their childhood. Leila Feister, author of the Annie E. Casey Foundation report, wrote that the achievement gap is "profoundly disappointing to all of us who see school success as beacons in the battle against intergenerational poverty," according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
According to the report, 83% of all low-income students read below the proficiency level by the end of third grade. The numbers were higher than average for African-Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans. Whites and Asian-Americans scored higher than the national average for low-income families. Moderate and high-income students fared better, with only 55% scoring below the level of proficiency.
According to the report, "If the current trend holds true, 6.6 million low-income children in the birth to age 8 group are at increased risk of failing to graduate from high school on time because they won't be able to meet NAEP's proficient levels by the end of third grade." NAEP is the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which administered the test to obtain the results analyzed in this report.
Why Third Grade?
What is the significance of third grade reading assessments in predicting a child's academic success? The foundation's director of evidence-based practices, Abel Ortiz, told the Salt Lake Tribune, "Up to third grade, children are learning to read. Starting in fourth grade, they are reading to learn." If children don't have good reading skills by this time, it directly impacts their ability to learn properly and succeed in school.
Ralph Smith, executive vice president for the foundation, takes it a step further. He told the Washington Post, "Our ability to compete in a global economy is severely compromised if we don't improve these literacy rates."
The Solution
Parents are right to be concerned about the report, but the good news is that there are steps they can take to improve their children's potential for success in school. The Annie E. Casey Foundation report defines a number of factors that give children the building blocks for learning that they need to succeed:
  • Language-Rich Home Environments – According to a report from Strategies for Children, low-income children have heard 200 million fewer words than high income children. Reed Spencer, Utah's K-12 literacy coordinator, told the Salt Lake Tribune that parents shouldn't be afraid to use sophisticated language when communicating with their children because this builds their vocabulary and grammar skills.
  • Improved Health in Children from Birth through Early Childhood – This would increase the odds that children were developmentally ready to begin school, cognitively, physically, socially and emotionally.
  • Improved School Initiatives – Data-driven initiatives would transform low-performing schools into high-quality learning environments that would reap greater results.
  • Reduced School Absences – It is a logical assumption that children who actually show up for school every day will perform better overall. However, the report also recommends shortening summer vacations to allow for a better consistency in learning. Many children suffer from learning loss during the summer months, particularly those in low income families.
As a parent, you can improve your child's academic potential by reading and communicating with your child often. Like anything, proficient reading takes plenty of practice. By reading daily with your child, you help him become proficient in this very important skill that will help him achieve academic success all the way through high school and beyond.

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