New report recommends state actions on reading in the early grades
Far too few students read proficiently by 4th grade
Only a third of students in SREB states read at or above grade level by the end of third grade — leaving two thirds at risk of not graduating high school on time or succeeding in college.
A new report from the Southern Regional Education Board offers recommendations for state policy to help more students meet the critical milestone of reading proficiently by fourth grade. The research is clear, says Ready to Read, Ready to Succeed: State Policies that Support Fourth-Grade Reading. Children who are not strong readers by the time they finish third grade and enter fourth face an uphill battle during the school years that follow.
“Reading is job one,” said SREB President Dave Spence. “We need to do everything we can to be sure students have this foundational skill they need to keep learning through school, into college and on the job.”
A third of students at risk
Thirty-three percent of students in the SREB region scored “Proficient” — solidly on grade level — in 2015, the most recent data available from the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Another 33 percent, though, didn’t even reach “Basic” — partial mastery for grade-level reading — which means they have significant deficiencies in reading skills and are likely to struggle in later grades.
Among students from low-income families, the numbers are even more striking: Only 22 percent of fourth graders were at or above “Proficient,” and 44 percent were below “Basic.” Students who are not reading on grade level by this point are four times more likely than their peers to drop out of high school.
Ready to Read, Ready to Succeed highlights practices that work to identify and help struggling readers in the early grades. It also reports, by SREB state, policies for:
- kindergarten attendance
- dyslexia screening
- third-grade retention
- teacher training and certification
Recommendations for states
What can states do to improve the number of students who read proficiently by fourth grade? The report offers four recommendations:
1. Promote kindergarten attendance for all children. Be sure funding covers seats for all children from low-income families and English language learners. High-quality pre-K and kindergarten give children a boost and are especially critical for these students.
2. Encourage schools to identify struggling readers early. Then make sure schools use proven interventions, such as one-on one tutoring, as early as possible and as long as necessary to help them catch up. Getting the right kind of help soon can make a big difference.
3. Review policies for promoting or retaining third-grade students. Give them plenty of chances to show reading proficiency — and be sure those who aren’t proficient get intensive individual support. Simply keeping students in third grade another year won’t improve their achievement over the long run.
4. Strengthen teacher preparation so new pre-K through third grade teachers are grounded in the essential components of reading and can recognize dyslexia. Dyslexia affects at least one in 10 people, but at least half are not identified.
“There is no silver bullet in education. Together, these policies and practices will help make sure more students in our states have the reading skills they need to be successful,” said Samantha Durrance, SREB policy analyst and author of the report. “But it won’t happen overnight. States will need to support schools in these efforts and sustain their commitment over the long haul.”