Why 3rd Grade Reading Needs Priority

3rd-grade-chalkI have stated 3rd Grade Reading has become a “pet peeve” for me during my research of Octorara’s academic performance. The District repeats, over and over, one of the challenges for improving school performance is that Octorara has a high percentage of Economically Disadvantaged students. So, what can be done?

In 2011, the American Educational Research Association released a study showing a student who can’t read at grade-level, by 3rd Grade, is four times less likely to graduate. Also, Economically Disadvantaged students are 13 times less likely to graduate than proficient students from wealthier families.

However, the study also showed 89% of students in poverty, reading proficiently by 3rd Grade, did graduate on time. These students were statistically no different from the students who never experienced poverty, but also struggled with reading early..

Overall, this research identifies low reading skills a greater predictor of academic development than socioeconomics.

The findings include:

  • 16% of children who are not reading at grade-level by the 3rd Grade do not graduate on time, a rate 4 times higher than proficient readers
  • Children who are poor for at least a year and not reading proficiently, the likelihood of failing to graduate increases to 26%
  • For children who were poor, living in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty

    and not reading proficiently, the proportion jumped to 35%.

Boiled down, if children are not proficient readers by 3rd Grade, the effects of being Economically Disadvantaged are magnified.

The revised “Double Jeopardy: How Third-Grade Reading Skills and Poverty Influence High School Graduation” is posted by the Annie E. Casey Foundation website (link).

An older paper, “2010 KIDS COUNT Special Report: Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters,” (link) also makes the case that reading proficiently by 3rd Grade is a fundamental benchmark in developmental success and overall childhood well-being.

The report stated that up until 3rd Grade children are learning to read. After 3rd Grade, children are reading to learn, and that at least half of all printed 4th Grade curriculum is incomprehensible to a student not reading proficiently. Failing to be a proficient reader has a compounding effect on the rest of a child’s academic development.

If we go back to 2004-2005 (Class of ’14), we see “Grade 3 Reading – Percent Proficient or Advanced on PSSA” was 78%. We then look at the current Octorara Area JSHS SPP scores and find:

  • Mathematics/Algebra I – Proficient or Advanced on PSSA/Keystone – 75.52%
  • Reading/Literature – Proficient or Advanced on PSSA/Keystone – 74.27%
  • Science/Biology – Proficient or Advanced on PSSA/Keystone – 42.75%
  • Writing – Proficient or Advanced on PSSA – 71.00%

Octorara’s current “Grade 3 Reading – Percent Proficient or Advanced on PSSA” score is 72.07%. These students are today in 4th Grade (Class of ’22), and almost 28% are having trouble comprehending a large portion of their printed curriculum. When these children get to High School, how well will they perform? Octorara’s current Graduation rate is only 83.33%. What will it be in 8 years?

This is why Pennsylvania singled out 3rd Grade Reading in their School Performance Profiles, separate from a school’s overall Reading/Literature score. It is that important an indicator, and one of the main stated purposes of the SPP profiles is informing the public of how schools are serving our children. Proficient Reading must be seen as a major issue.

I’m not suggesting fixing Octorara’s Grade 3 Reading proficiency problems is an easy task, but it does seem to be a little bit of a magic bullet. If High School Biology teachers have 25-30% of their students not being able to comprehend the printed curriculum, it becomes a no-brainer why Biology Keystone test scores are so low.


3 thoughts on “Why 3rd Grade Reading Needs Priority

  1. I don’t doubt the criticality of reading proficiency in the third grade. But the link with being economically disadvantaged is not forged in steel. Just ask Dr. Thomas Sowell, Dr. Ben Carson, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and so many other high-achievers who overcame economically depressed backgrounds. The link among almost all of them? Parents who were engaged…who pushed, pulled, and prodded…who set high expectations, and who put in the time to work with their children in achieving them.

    • Absolutely, and that is the point I was trying to make. Current research shows that Reading Proficiency is a greater predictor of academic development than socioeconomics.

      As far as Parental engagement, this is the school-family-community partnership I have written about. When the Board and Administration talks about parental engagement, they seem to be talking about assisting in the classroom, chaperoning students, and fundraising. That has to be expanded, all the way to families as active participants in school decisions and governance. In order to do that, the district must solicit feedback, truly encourage attendance and participation and Board and Committee meetings, and actively engage.

      The Board sets the tone. If the message is “we have achieved standards, but there is room for improvement,” there is no call to action. There is no sense of urgency. They are telling people, everything is fine.

      I have looked into what parents can do at home, and they all tend to be lackluster, common sense recommendations… make sure your student is prepared for school… make sure they eat a good breakfast… make sure you read to your child… have your child read to you… discuss what you and they read… don’t do your child’s homework for them.

      Parents are not expected to pickup the school’s slack, which I feel is sometimes the message from the District.

  2. A quick follow-up: For the better part of a century curricula and text books didn’t change all that much. Children were taught much as their parents had been taught. So it used to be easier for parents to help with homework. Parents felt on familiar ground. No longer. Not when curricula and teaching methodologies are constantly changing. So no doubt it is harder now for parents to help. Nevertheless it must be done. If there is any silver bullet to student improvement, it is parents. No teacher, no school district, can compensate if the parents don’t give a damn.

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