In a new report, “Early Warning Confirmed: A Research Update on Third-Grade Reading,” the Annie E. Casey Foundation follows up on its earlier research about the importance of promoting children’s reading proficiency by the end of third grade.
The foundation’s May 2010 report “Early Warning: Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters” explained “the research basis for focusing on reading proficiency by the third grade as an essential step toward increasing the number of children who succeed academically” and do well in their lives and careers. That report also launched the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, a national collaborative effort by foundations, nonprofit partners, states and communities to ensure that more children in low-income families succeed in school and graduate prepared for college, a career and active citizenship. This effort led to the creation of a network of national and local civic leaders, policymakers, advocates, community organizations and everyday people.
Currently, 124 communities have joined the campaign, according to a Casey foundation press release, including five Massachusetts’ communities: Boston, Worcester, Holyoke, Pittsfield and Springfield.
More Evidence Gathered
What has changed since 2010? New research reveals that even more urgent efforts are needed to boost children’s reading skills. This is especially true for children who come from low-income families.
A 2011 study followed 382 children from kindergarten to third grade and found “those in the lower ranks of reading achievement were likely to remain there. Moreover, at each subsequent data collection point over a four-year period, the struggling readers fell further behind their grade-level reading peers.”
The report also points to findings from Donald Hernandez, a Hunter College sociologist who studied the link between third grade reading and high school graduation. Hernandez found that children who are not proficient readers in third grade are four times less likely to graduate by age 19 than proficient readers. His research has also examined the additional influence of poverty, finding that “living in a high-poverty neighborhood exacerbates the effects of poor reading skills and family poverty,” according to the report. “Moreover, even being a good reader cannot fully compensate for the risk that comes from living in a high-poverty neighborhood: 14 percent of good readers from high-poverty communities fail to graduate, compared to only two to four percent of good readers from affluent or middle-class neighborhoods.”
The report also points to numerous programs and strategies to help children boost their school readiness, educational success and life outcomes.
For example, Brookings Institution research found that, “Children who attend some form of preschool program at age four are nine percentage points more likely to be school-ready than other children.” This outcome is largely due to “early math and reading skills and, to a lesser extent, positive learning-related behaviors acquired in preschool.” This study simulated the effects on school readiness of three interventions, “preschool, smoking cessation programs for pregnant women and nurse-home visiting programs for new mothers — and found that preschool programs ‘offer the most promise for increasing children’s school readiness.’”
A study of the Child-Parent Center Education Program found “that effects can endure into adulthood.” This research project looked at almost 1,000 children who participated in this preschool program, and found that “by age 28 the participants had significantly higher levels of educational attainment than individuals in a control group. The educational achievements translated into higher economic status for participants and lower rates of involvement in the criminal and justice systems.”
Other strategies also promote children’s school readiness, including:
- Classroom-based interventions that involve training, coaching and mental health consultation can yield “significant school readiness benefits for low-income children.”
- Aligning pre-K education with K–12 curricula “for children from low-income families, English language learners and students with special needs can boost participants’ vocabulary, early reading, writing and social skills during the year before kindergarten entry, according to an evaluation of the St. Paul Public Schools’ Project Early Kindergarten-Early Reading First.”
And new cost-benefit studies have shown how school readiness efforts can lead to savings in K-12 education:
“A 2011 study by the Wilder Foundation examined an Illinois program serving 90,000 three- to five-year-olds and found it generated an estimated $353 to $530 million in combined cost savings and annual revenue over 23 years, including up to $40 million in savings for K–12 schools, $259 million in reduced government spending and increased tax revenues, $231 million in reduced social costs and $72 million in increased wages and tax revenues from high school graduates in the labor force.”
“The research affirms the points we made three years ago. Third-grade reading is a powerful predictor of school success,” Ralph Smith, Casey’s senior vice president and the managing director of the Grade Level Reading Campaign, said in the report press release. “Children who are not ready for school, who miss too many days and who lose ground over the summer months are likely to miss the third-grade reading milestone.”