Reading is fundamental to our nation’s economic growth and national security. We know that learning to read in the early grades is the “gateway to lifelong learning.” We also know that if kids do not enter fourth grade ready to read to learn, then opportunities become limited.
Research confirms what we know intuitively. When students can’t read by the end of third grade, they fall further and further behind and are significantly more likely to drop out of high school.
Since reading proficiency by the end of third grade is a key predictor of high school graduation rate, it makes sense to embrace policies that require students to demonstrate the ability to read before entering fourth grade. We should also demand heightened attention on methods to improve basic literacy skills in children’s critical years from Pre-K through second grade.
Data continues to show there is a strong association between literacy, dropping out of high school, a lifetime of poverty, and incarceration rates:
- Almost 90 percent of teenagers in the juvenile justice system are functionally illiterate
- Half of the school achievement gap between rich and poor kids starts before kindergarten.
- More than 80 percent of students who failed to earn a high school diploma were struggling readers in third grade.
- Seven out of ten adult prisoners can’t read above a fourth grade level.
Florida took bold steps to improve literacy and put an end to “social promotion.” It made reading proficiency a requirement of third grade which required students to demonstrate the ability to read before entering fourth grade.
As a result of these reforms, Florida students have made significant strides. This was possible due to a combination of reforms and policies focused on reading, early literacy, and high standards.
Once near the bottom of the pack nationally, now Florida students are racing to the top.
In 1998, Florida students scored near the bottom of the nation in student achievement. Forty-seven percent of Florida’s fourth-grade students were functionally illiterate.
Fast forward to today where Florida’s fourth-grade students continue to outperform the nation in reading.
- Florida’s fourth graders and eighth graders are above the national average in reading
- Florida’s fourth graders are above the national average in math
- Florida was among the top scoring states in the nation in 4th grade reading.
- Florida’s low-income fourth graders ranked first in the nation in reading
- No other states had significantly higher average reading scale scores than Florida’s Hispanic and African American 8th grade students.
- Florida was the only state to narrow the achievement gap in fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math between white and African-American students.
- Florida’s grade 4 and 8 students with disabilities scoring at or above Proficient in reading scored higher than their national counterparts.
These numbers point to an inescapable fact. Student-centered education reforms have worked.
While we have come a long way, there is still a lot of work to do. Students, mainly Hispanics and blacks still lag behind in almost every measure but we must not turn a blind eye.
We must focus on a simple yet profound concept which can have immense social implications if we fail to treat it like the urgency that it is–third grade reading literacy. If my child sits in a classroom for four years, then I expect my child to enter fourth grade as a competent reader.
As parents, we want every child to have every chance in life, every chance to succeed, and a fair chance to be in a learning environment where they can thrive and realize their full potential. For this reason, as a parent, I will support policies that require students to demonstrate the ability to read.