Third Grade Reading Success Matters

Becoming a strong reader begins at birth. The cornerstones of reading success - language, knowledge, and curiosity - should be cultivated from infancy, and in every setting.
Nonie K. Lesaux, Ph.D.
Turning the Page

Reading is essential for learning

Children from all walks of life must learn to read proficiently. Reading is the most crucial academic skill because it is the foundation for learning. Through third grade children are learning to read; after third grade students read to learn. But only one-in-three students read proficiently by that point.

Without a strong foundation in reading, children are left behind at the beginning of their education. They lag in every class, year after year because more than 85 percent of the curriculum is taught by reading. And by the end of third grade, 74 percent of struggling readers won’t ever catch up. In fact, one of the most important predictors of graduating from high school is reading proficiently by the end of third grade.

Reading problems are difficult to fix but easy to prevent

Reading together 20 minutes every day teaches most school readiness skills (e.g., vocabulary, counting, colors, social skills, etc.). The simple act of reading with a child every day has significant additional benefits including:

  • Increases the number of children acquiring the essential early literacy skills required for entering kindergarten prepared and eager for school.
  • Develops socially and emotionally confident children who have strong bonds and are at pace with their peers.
  • Reduces the school achievement gap and lowers remediation expenses for K-12 students by helping children start and stay at grade level.
  • Empowers parents and caregivers to become their child’s first and most influential teachers.

90% Reading Goal

The Children’s Reading Foundation encourages school districts and communities to adopt a 90 percent reading goal. This goal means 90 percent of third graders will read on or above grade level by the end of the school year. By adopting this goal, illiteracy can be eliminated.

This is not an easy goal, but it can be done. Achieving this goal requires a long-term committed effort, and a systematic realignment of school assessments, curriculum, instruction time, reporting, and a shift of available resources.

School districts nationwide have adopted this goal, and achieved it! This is how The Children’s Reading Foundation came to be, formed by a group of community stakeholders with the Kennewick, Washington School District to ensure 90 percent of their third graders read proficiently.

When Kennewick School District set this goal in 1996, only 55 percent of their third graders were reading proficiently. It took 10 years to reach their goal, but they did it. There is not one thing that allows a school district to achieve this goal; it takes several:

  • The school board and superintendent to set a clear, measurable goal.
  • A solid, accurate system for measuring reading ability.
  • A willingness to be absolutely truthful with themselves and their community about how many students are entering fourth grade below proficient. A willingness to talk frankly about the public’s reading expectations and the actual reading performance by third grade.
  • A specific plan identifying the strategies and recognizing resources and priorities will need to be aligned accordingly.
  • Flexibility in approaches and curriculums.
  • Involve parents and the community in creating a social norm to read with a child for 20 minutes every day.

Whatever reading goal your school district sets, building a constituency for change and improvement in public schools is a complex, often challenging process, though a vital one to the success of the school system, its students, and the community. The imperative for educators – school boards, superintendents, principals and teachers – is to develop ways of engaging, not only parents and community members but also business leaders, political leaders, and media representatives. It requires a commitment to inclusiveness, consensus, and meaningful change geared toward raising student achievement.

The details and specifics of how Kennewick, Washington achieved its 90 percent goal can be found in the book, The 90% Reading Goal by Lynn Fielding, Nancy Kerr and Paul Rosier. This book can be purchased from the Products & Resources page.

Additional Resources

READY for Reading: 101 Books Brochure 11x17 PRINT

READY for Reading: 101 Books Brochure SPANISH 11x17 PRINT

Read With Your School Age Child Brochure 8.5x11 PRINT.pdf

Read With Your School-Age Child Brochure 8.5x11 SPANISH PRINT.pdf