Reading by the end of 3rd grade is critical for success in school and in life. After 3rd grade, the focus shifts from learning to read to reading to learn. Research shows that students who haven’t mastered basic reading skills by the end of 3rd grade—whom we call ‘striving readers’—are less likely to get on track and keep up with their peers’ academic achievement. Research also shows that striving readers after the primary years are more likely to become school dropouts, teen parents, underemployed adults, and are at greater risk for involvement in the criminal justice system.
What would it really take for all children to read on grade level by 3rd grade? It takes many stakeholders—teachers and school leaders, of course, and parents, school boards, community organizations, residents, and policy makers at all levels, too. But teachers and school leaders are directly responsible for delivering the effective literacy instruction that is at the core of any course of action. What specifically should they do?
In 2008, Foundations joined the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Making Connections initiative, a decade-long effort to improve outcomes for children living in tough neighborhoods. Foundations works in eight Making Connections sites across the country. Specifically, we work with schools, districts, and communities to develop reading success plans for each striving reader by paying attention to health and attendance as well as to academics, and by bringing together the right data and the right people to determine the right interventions for each child, assess the impact of those interventions, and adjust them until every child reads on grade level. We support the sites through tools, on-site training, and technical assistance that includes facilitating virtual communities of practice.
The result of this collaboration is our 8 A’s—specific recommendations we believe will lead to all students reading on grade level by the end of 3rd grade:
- Aim for high achievement by setting clear targets.
- Attract families and community partners to share in the work.
- Assess—as frequently as necessary—the needs and assets of individual students, groups of students, and schools.
- Assemble key data and key people in one place.
- Act on individual needs and group needs.
- Align learning opportunities for students across systems and educational settings.
- Assist teachers, school leaders, other school and program staff, families, and partners to build their capacity to implement all aspects of their grade level reading approach.
- Advocate for adequate resources and supportive policies by enhancing public awareness and engagement.
Download the complete report, Grade Level Reading: An Action Framework for School and District Leaders, at foundationsinc.org.
The 8 A’s will seem familiar to most educators as the logical and right thing to do. It also sounds straightforward, even easy. But our experience and national statistics suggest that it is not easy. Most schools, especially in under-resourced communities, aren’t implementing the strategies that underlie these recommendations. And if schools are doing some of the 8 A’s, it is rare for schools to do any one fully. It is even rarer for schools to implement the entire set and for districts to scale grade level reading district-wide and to sustain it over time. Yet our experience also suggests that every day countless teachers and school leaders across the country dedicate their energy and ingenuity to helping all students read on grade level.
Our 8 A’s are a work in progress. We expect to amend and refine them as we continue learning from our own work with our partners in the field and from others’ experience. What insights can you share?
Readers might also be interested in the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2010 report, Early Warning! Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters.