A commonly accepted milestone in literacy is the threshold between the end of third grade and the beginning of fourth: That's when children switch from learning to read to reading to learn. According to a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation—which focuses on improving outcomes for disadvantaged kids—efforts need to be redoubled to make sure that kids in the U.S. are making that transition.
Right now, kids are clearly still learning to read well beyond third grade: The recent National Assessment of Educational Progress found that there was no improvement in reading scores of fourth graders between 2007 and 2009. Two-thirds of all students aren't proficient at reading, and 80 percent of students from low-income families don't measure up.
In its report, titled "EARLY WARNING!: Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters," the Casey Foundation calls for a four-pronged effort to get students, especially those from low-income and minority families, on track. From a press release introducing the report (MS Word doc):
1. Develop a coherent system of early care and education that aligns, integrates, and coordinates what happens from birth through third grade so children are ready to take on the learning tasks associated with fourth grade and beyond.\n
2. Encourage and enable parents, families, and caregivers to play their indispensable roles as co-producers of good outcomes for their children.
3. Prioritize, support, and invest in results-driven initiatives to transform low-performing schools into high-quality teaching and learning environments in which all children, including those from low-income families and high-poverty neighborhoods, are present, engaged, and educated to high standards.
4. Develop and utilize solutions to two of the most significant contributors to the under-achievement of children from low-income families—chronic absence from school and summer learning loss.
As Valerie Strauss at The Washington Post's Answer Sheet blog writes, the findings of the NAEP report made clear the striking effect that poverty, as well as parental involvement, has on a student's success:
Some school reformers like to say that poverty is used as an excuse for the failure of students to progress, but actually, poverty is a condition that most certainly affects the learning dynamic, and any effort to pretend that it isn’t is akin to ignoring the elephant in the room.