Literacy: Third Grade Reading Predicts Graduation
Background: Nationally, two-thirds of students are not reading on grade level by the fourth grade, the earliest year of testing in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). That proportion rises to four-fifths for low-income children, according to NAEP results released last year.
A recently released national study indicates that students who are not proficient readers in third grade are significantly more likely to drop out. "Students who don’t read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to leave high school without a diploma than proficient readers."
It's Poverty Not Stupid (3-6-8) "Poverty compounds the problem."
Students who have lived in poverty are three times more likely to drop out or fail to graduate on time than their more affluent peers;
- If they read poorly, too, the rate is six times greater than that for all proficient readers.
- For black and Latino students, the combined effect of poverty and poor third grade reading skills makes the rate eight times greater.
- Poverty troubles even the best readers: Proficient third graders who have lived in poverty graduate at about the same rate as subpar readers who have never been poor.
“We will never close the achievement gap, we will never solve our dropout crisis, we will never break the cycle of poverty that afflicts so many children if we don’t make sure that all our students learn to read,” said Ralph Smith, executive vice president of the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
Specifically, the study found:
- One in six children who are not reading proficiently in third grade do not graduate from high school on time, a rate four times greater than that for proficient readers.
- The rates are highest for the low, below-basic readers: 23 percent of these children drop out or fail to finish high school on time, compared to 9 percent of children with basic reading skills and 4 percent of proficient readers.
- The below-basic readers account for a third of the sample but three-fifths of the students who do not graduate.
- Overall, 22 percent of children who have lived in poverty do not graduate from high school, compared to 6 percent of those who have never been poor. This rises to 32 percent for students spending more than half of their lives in poverty.
- For children who were poor for at least a year and were not reading proficiently in third grade, the proportion of those who don’t finish school rose to 26 percent. The rate was highest for poor black and Hispanic students, at 31 and 33 percent respectively. Even so the majority of students who fail to graduate are white.
- Even among poor children who were proficient readers in third grade, 11 percent still didn’t finish high school. That compares to 9 percent of subpar third graders who were never poor.
- Among children who never lived in poverty, all but 2 percent of the best third-grade readers graduated from high school on time.
The study concluded that improvements are needed in the following areas:
- improving the schools where these children are learning to read
- helping the families weighed down by poverty
- better federal, state and local policy to improve the lot of both schools and families
- aligning quality early education programs with the curriculum and standards in the primary grades
- paying better attention to health and developmental needs of young children
- providing work training and other programs that will help lift families out of poverty.
Can high schools or middle schools afford to wait until students arrive at their doors with reading problems?
- The development of math and literacy skills is a PK-12 issue, not an elementary issue, not a middle school issue, and certainly not a high school issue.
- Vertical articulation between all levels is one key to improving literacy skills.
- Curriculum alignment is another key.
- Cross-content literacy instruction (Common Core ELA Standards) and whole-school literacy initiatives are another key.
- Keep in mind that, even if under-resourced students are proficient by third grade, they must have direct, explicit literacy (reading, writing, thinking, discussing) instruction every year thereafter or they will not progress.
- Literacy skills predict future math performance, which, in turn, predicts future college completion.