Why Reading by Third Grade Is So Important

Amanda Hopper has worked with the Youth Services Department at BCPL for five years and is currently the YS Coordinator.  Amanda lives in Union with her husband and two daughters.  She is passionate about serving the children and families of Boone County.   

What makes the third grade so important in a child’s academic success?  What makes this grade such a Hickerson4pivotal year in the child’s academic development? Perhaps one major reason is that the academic requirements become more focused and yet more stringent.  For example, it is the year that students move from learning to read, to reading to learn. At this age, children move from mastering letters and phonics to using words and books to master topics and information.  As a result, children who are not reading at the 3rd grade reading level will begin to fall behind academically because they not only have to utilize the basic skills of reading but they have to master additional comprehension and study skills related to comprehension.  Unfortunately, the gap will continue to widen as the child progresses through grade school, middle school, and finally high school. It has been found that third graders who lack this reading proficiency are four times more likely to drop out of high school.

School Readiness
There are several factors that impact whether or not a child will read on level by third grade.  Learning begins long before a child enters school. Children, even babies, love to hear their caregivers talk to them, sing with them, or read them a story.  And by doing these things, a child’s vocabulary is being developed, a skill critical to later reading proficiency.  A child’s health and the timely recognition of developmental delays are other essential factors for school readiness. Many of you have heard the old adage: “It takes a village to raise a child.”  While parents play an enormous role in teaching their child before kindergarten, they can’t do all of it alone.  Childcare providers, pediatricians, preschools programs, librarians, and the broader community all contribute to a child’s success.

The American Library Association, Every Child Ready to Read program outlines five simple practices that parents and caregivers can practice during early childhood to help their child prepare for school:  Talking, Singing, Reading, Writing, and Playing. The five practices provide fun learning experiences for children of different ages and interests. For example, children learn about language by listening to parents talk and by talking with them.  And reading together is the single most important way to help children get ready to read.  If children are ready for kindergarten, 85% will be reading at grade level in the 3rd grade, and they are four times more likely to graduate from high school fully prepared for college and career.

And all of this is even before school begins!  Here are some interesting statistics from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP):



Chronic Absence
Chronic absence is a term used for extensive absences from school, regardless of the reason.  Absences during the early school years can rob students of the time they need to develop literacy skills.  Consequently, students who are consistently absent in preschool end the year with lower skills than those who attend. This starts a chain reaction—chronic absence in kindergarten and first grade leads to lower performance in third grade, which, in turn, is tied to decreased attendance in six and ninth grades and an increased risk of dropping out.   Chronic absence can be used by communities to identify families and neighborhoods in need of support, since poor school attendance can be an early warning sign of challenging social, economic, and health conditions.

Summer Learning Loss
Research continues to prove that students lose ground academically when they are out of school for the summer. Funders, policymakers, and community leaders can help schools and local organizations address summer learning loss by supporting programs engaging children in summer learning opportunities. More specifically, communities need to incorporate opportunities for children to engage in academic learning, hands-on activities, arts, sports, technology, and relationship development in their summer programming.

Boone County Public Library, for example, provides numerous opportunities for summer learning. The Summer Reading program provides incentives for children and adults of any age to read throughout the summer. Extra performances, science programs, and literacy-based activities at the Library provide extra opportunities to feel engaged during the summer months and to continue to be immersed in learning. Fueling the Mind is a grant-funded program which provides meals and literacy activities both at our Florence Library facility and in selected community areas. Camp Wonderopolis is another grant-funded program through the National Center for Family Literacy that provides science, technology, engineering, and math-based programs to families at our Scheben Branch location.

Parent Engagement
Parents are the first and most important teachers in their children’s lives. Students are most successful in school and socially when their parents are involved in their learning and engaged in their lives. Since study after study shows that reading well by the end of third grade is a critical milestone, parents, community members, and educators should work together to provide a continuum of learning throughout each child’s life.  But mostly, parents need to talk, read, and interact with their children.

Educators, families, and communities all want to see their children succeed in school and have a successful transition to adulthood.  The local Strive Partnership, for example, is working to ensure that Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky children have access to the support services, resources, and enrichment opportunities necessary to achieve success. Through this partnership, area organizations and community members are working together to ensure that students’ and parents’ needs are being met.

For more information on the Campaign for Grade Level Reading and other literacy initiatives:

Information for the blog was obtained at:
Campaign for Grade Level Reading, http://gradelevelreading.net/
Strive Partnership:  http://www.strivetogether.org/
Every Child Ready to Read:  http://www.everychildreadytoread.org/


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