Reading by Grade 3: Giving Kids a Foundation for Future Success

Reading by Grade 3: Giving Kids a Foundation for Future Success

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Reading by Grade 3

An alarming number of children—about 67% nationwide—are not able to read by grade three. Of those children, 80% are from low-income families and children of color. And the gap between fluent and struggling readers does not diminish over time. It, in fact, increases significantly as children progress through the grades.

Why can’t these children read? Is reading really that difficult of a skill to learn? Are the wrong methods being used to teach it? All good questions—because our children’s academic, professional, and personal futures are at stake. Read on as we delve deeper into the issues.

Reading by Grade 3—It Matters

More and more states are requiring students to be able to read by grade 3 or face retention. While a controversial issue, the push for retention has brought a new sense of urgency to the effort to improve third-grade reading proficiency.

The jury is still out as to whether a retention policy is in a student’s best interest. But there is universal recognition of the fact that reading proficiency is imperative. Studies show that children who can read by grade three are more likely to succeed academically, graduate high school, and do well in college and their careers. In addition, they are more likely to be successful adults and avoid falling into poverty.

Why Johnny Can’t Read

According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, several factors contribute to whether or not a child reads in grade three:

  • School readiness in terms of health, language development, social-emotional skills, and participation in high-quality early care and learning programs.
  • Chronic absence. The number of days a student is absent has a significant impact on third and eighth grade reading ability. Chronic absence is also a key predictor of dropping out of high school and higher rates of criminal behavior later in life.
  • Summer learning. Students who do not participate in summer programs may fall behind in reading as much as two months. Having access to books in the summer can slow that slide down.
  • Family stressors. Many family stressors can distract children from the task of learning, including hunger, housing insecurity, family mobility, family violence, parental depression, and abuse and neglect.
  • High-quality teaching which happens not only in school, but also in homes among family members and caregivers. Researchers say consistently supportive home learning environments in the early years may close the school readiness gap.

How Teachers Can Change This Picture

The reasons early readers struggle are varied and complex. Some have decoding problems, others can read the words but can’t comprehend them, and still others read slowly. Then there is the child who is making little to no progress at all.

In the best of all worlds, teachers are teaching to the different needs of each reader. But in the real world of large class size and too many other standards to meet, teachers may be wondering, “How do we actually do that?”

The answer to the “Can you read?” question depends on three abilities:

  • Decoding fluently
  • Comprehending or lifting meaning from decoded text
  • Extrapolating or thinking critically about the meaning of what has been read

What’s the best way to teach these skills? There is no single approach that will work with every child in every setting. Rather, what’s required is a deliberate system of continuous improvement, diagnosis and formative assessment, and instruction adapted to meet the needs of learners.

And teachers mustn’t underestimate the role of motivation. Learners must want to read. According to the National Research Council, lack of motivation is one of the main stumbling blocks on the road to reading. The good news is that there are many concrete things teachers can do to motivate students to read. These include providing a wide variety of interesting text, allowing children to select their own texts, talking about books, matching students to just-right texts, and using technology to make reading exciting.

Explore the critical components of reading in more detail along with best practices behind them. SDE offers a webinar that will help you teach children to read and lay the foundation of future success. Check out Reading by Grade 3: More Important Than Ever! (Gr. K–3) by national teacher trainer Susan Sturock.

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