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The case for Early grade reading

Photo of BoyMany of us may not realize that reading is a critical bridge to success in school, work and life.  Children generally are learning to read until 3rd grade.  By the 4th grade, they should be reading to learn.  After that, coursework gets harder and reading becomes more challenging. Students who don’t read well have increasing difficulty keeping up. This can lead to bad grades, disengaging from school, and dropping out.  In fact, children who aren’t reading at grade level by the end of third grade are four times as likely to drop out of high school, according to a recent Annie E. Casey Foundation report.

Nationally, two-thirds of students are not reading on grade level by fourth grade, the earliest year of testing in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). That proportion rises to four-fifths for children from low-wage families. 

One in three American 4th graders score “below basic” in national assessments.  That means they can barely read at all.

Although school districts and states may measure reading at different times in elementary school, NAEP is the only national reading report card. (Find your state’s data here.) And experts estimate that at least six million children in first through third grades are likely to be reading below grade level as well.

The arc of success – or failure – starts early.  By 3rd grade, a child’s grades, attendance rates and behavior can foreshadow with 80 percent accuracy whether she’ll finish high school.

Studies show that of 50 kids struggling to learn to read in 1st grade, 44 will still be struggling in 3rd grade.  We know those 44 children face an uncertain academic future. They’re on the fast track to dropping out, especially if they’re children in low-wage families and high-poverty neighborhoods and schools. 

That’s why United Way is a founding partner of the national Grade-Level Reading Campaign, a collaborative effort by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and some 80 national, local and regional funders across the nation to:

  • Close the gap in reading achievement that separates many low-income students from their peers.
  • Raise the bar for reading proficiency so that all students are assessed by world-class standards.
  • Ensure that all children, including and especially children from low-income families, have an equitable opportunity to meet those higher standards.

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