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

Tim Hoffine

Annie E. Casey Foundation
May 2010 

Despite the title, this 2010 report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation spends just six pages of the report making the case for why the end of third grade is an important threshold for child literacy. The report then outlines a broad range of factors that undermine youth literacy (such as birth weight, health issues, hunger, and poverty) and argues for a comprehensive and intensive federal effort to address all of these issues.

Given the Foundation’s admirable commitment to improving the overall welfare of disadvantaged children, its call for a coordinated strategy to improve children’s wellbeing on multiple fronts should come as no surprise. A whole range of problems plague children’s development and this report serves as a reminder of the cross-cutting nature of policy spheres (health, economics, poverty and hunger reduction, education, etc.).

However, the report doesn’t go far enough in focusing on the role that K-12 education can play in improving child welfare. As is the case in the rest of the country, student performance in Ohio isn’t where it needs to be, especially for poor youngsters. In 2009, 64 percent of Ohio public school students failed to meet NAEP’s standards for reading proficiency, and still managed to tie for 11th among all states on this test. While 58 percent of white students scored below proficient on NAEP’s fourth-grade reading tests, a “catastrophic” 87 percent of black students scored below proficient, as did 70 percent of Hispanic students.

Though the report offers few specific examples of current educational policies that are raising student achievement, it does point to charter schools as examples of the kind of community involvement that needs to occur in education to get full buy-in from parents, students, teachers and schools. The report lifts up lessons as to what K-12 education can do – regardless of what is happening in other policy spheres -- to ensure that third graders are reaching reading proficiency. Read the report here.

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