An Economic Development Strategy: Getting All Students Reading by Third Grade

Last week, the National Governors Association released a new report, A Governor’s Guide to Early Literacy: Getting All Students Reading by Third Grade.”   The Governors’ interest is clear: to increase economic growth, every state must cultivate a future workforce that is highly literate, knowledgeable, and skilled.  Third grade is a critical juncture for students as they turn the corner from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.”

What’s the big deal about third grade reading ability?  A 2012 Annie E. Casey Foundation report, Double Jeopardy:  How Third Grade Reading Skills and Poverty  Influence High School Graduation,” found:

  • Those who do not read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to not graduate from high school.
  • For students reading below grade level in third grade, the rate is nearly six times greater.
  • For children who were poor for at least a year and also not reading proficiently, the proportion failing to graduate is 26 percent.
  • For children who were poor, lived in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty and also not reading proficiently, the proportion rose to 35 percent.

What’s the data show for 4th grade reading ability? The latest testing data released by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) based on 4th grade 2011 test scores found:

  • For low-income children eligible for free and reduced price lunch, 18 percent read at a “proficient” level, while the remaining students did not – 34 percent reading at a “basic” level and 48 percent reading below basic (or below grade level).
  • For children in families not eligible for free and reduced price lunch, test scores are reversed  – 48 percent read at a “proficient level,” 34 percent read at a “basic” level and 18 percent read below basic (or below grade level).

    States with Highest Proportion of School Children in Poverty

    States with the Highest Proportion of School Children in Poverty

A new report by the Southern Education Foundation, A New Majority, Low Income Students in the South and the Nation,” found that a majority of public school students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade are low-income in 17 states (13 southern states and 4 in the west).  Based on data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 71 percent of students in Mississippi, 68 percent of students in New Mexico,  66 percent of students from Louisiana, 61 percent of students from Oklahoma, and 60 percent of students from Arkansas were from low-income families.

The National Governors Association report links the inability to read at grade level with the consequences for such failure – higher rates of school dropouts, a mismatch between employer needs and educated workers, an increased likelihood of public assistance receipt, and higher rates of incarceration.   Research by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce shows that nearly two-thirds of future jobs will require at least some level of post-secondary education.

Given the nation’s economic prosperity will depend on an increasingly well educated workforce, the NGA report offers guidance to policymakers to better support the language and literacy skills of children from early childhood through third grade.  The data is clear, reading skills matter for school performance and success.

The NGA report calls for a broad systemic effort to bridge the gap between research and current policies – in short, an ambitious birth-to-third grade agenda.

The report recommends five policy actions to ensure that all children are reading by third grade:

Action 1: Adopt comprehensive language and literacy standards and curricula for early care and education programs and kindergarten through third grade.

Action 2: Expand access to high-quality child care, pre-kindergarten, and full-day kindergarten.

Action 3: Engage and support parents as partners in early language and literacy development.

Action 4: Equip professionals providing care and education with the skills and knowledge to support early learning and literacy development.

Action 5: Develop mechanisms to promote continuous improvement and accountability.

What the NGA report makes clear is that “starting at kindergarten is too late.”  Language and literacy development start at birth and gaps in achievement appear well before kindergarten entry. High quality early learning experiences can help close the gap. 

The report says leadership by the nation’s Governors is critical “to ensure policies and processes that reflect the research on early language and literacy development.”  The report says that state agencies and practitioners need the resources and capabilities to promote better policy and to measure progress toward continuous improvement.  The report concludes by calling on Governors to engage public and private stakeholders from outside the usual education policy arena.

Bottom Line Message:  The research is clear. Early learning settings matter for school success and for future economic prosperity.  We’re in this together: with 17 states with a majority of children in poverty in our public schools, we can’t afford to wait any longer before developing and implementing a birth through grade 3 language and literacy agenda.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s