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Third Grade Reading Skills - A Benchmark Gaining Ground in IN?

July 8, 2011

INDIANAPOLIS - Third-grade reading skills are becoming an educational benchmark in Indiana and around the nation, in light of numerous studies that link that proficiency to the likelihood of high school graduation.

The superintendent of the Los Angeles school district, one of the nation's largest, recently signed a contract where he'll be judged by the reading performance of third graders. He is the first in the nation to be held to that standard, which increasingly is being viewed as a school improvement measure in Indiana.

Ralph Smith, executive vice president of The Annie E. Casey Foundation, a partner in a grade-level reading campaign, explains why what happens in third grade is getting so much attention...

"What we know is that 75 percent of children who fail to reach this benchmark will never catch up, and are on a pathway to dropping out of high school."

Most children not reading at grade level in Indiana come from low-income households, Smith says.

Margaret Blood, founder and president of Strategies for Children, has been working to raise awareness about the importance of reading skills by the end of third grade. Indiana is a year into a state law focused on grade-level reading before fourth grade, yet Blood notes that high school graduation rates still get more attention...

"It almost makes no sense to look at high school graduation if you're not also focusing on what's happening in third grade, because that third-grade test score is going to be a key predictor for how likely that child is to graduate."

One of the challenges in getting more children reading at grade level, Blood says, is that the learning curve starts long before they enter kindergarten. She says that's why families and communities need more resources to make sure the youngest children are on the right track.

Links to studies about third-grade reading benchmarks are online at gradelevelreading.net.

Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - IN