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Report: 3rd Grade Reading Skills Predict High School Graduation

April 14, 2011

PHOENIX, Ariz. - Arizona kids struggling with reading in third grade are more likely to miss out on a high school diploma, according to a new study that followed nearly 4,000 students nationwide through their school years. It found that those not reading at grade level are four times more likely not to graduate, and for kids in poverty and minorities, the likelihood of failure is higher.

Report author Donald Hernandez, senior advisor with the Foundation for Child Development, says reading is a skill that needs to be addressed even before a child enters kindergarten.

"Research has found that high-quality early education makes a big difference, in terms of third-grade reading scores and success through high school."

Jack McCarthy, managing director of the AppleTree Institute for Education Innovation, which runs public charter schools in Washington, D.C., provides an example of how high-quality preschool pays off. He says preliminary research funded by the U.S. Department of Education shows that students who attend AppleTree programs have stronger literacy skills in grade school than those who didn't attend, even if they live in poverty.

"We see these as really strong indicators that a high-quality preschool experience, one that involves pre-literacy skills and social-emotional skills, really translates into better performance in early years."

Another underlying issue for reading success in the third grade is educational stability. Hernandez says students who move often, whether because of housing issues or foster care, face additional challenges in school.

"This creates difficulties, partly because we don't have curricula that are standard across schools, even within the same school district. Therefore, children transferring from one school to the next can't pick up where they left off."

Hernandez has recommendations to improve the odds: Set up preschool learning so it aligns with kindergarten lesson plans, help families out of poverty, and pay closer attention to the health and developmental needs of young children.

The full report, "Double Jeopardy: How Poverty & Third-Grade Reading Skills Influence High School Graduation," was commissioned by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. It is available at

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ