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Report: 3rd Grade Reading Skills Predict High School Graduation

April 19, 2011

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - 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 thousands of students through their school years. Those not reading at grade level are four times more likely not to graduate ultimately, and for kids in poverty and for minorities, the likelihood of failure is higher.

Report author Donald Hernandez, a senior adviser for the Foundation for Child Development, says third grade is an important pivot point in children's education, the time where they are transitioning from learning to read to reading to learn. He says reading is a skill that needs to be addressed even before a child enters kindergarten.says

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

Pat Simpson, representing the group Parents As Teachers, says studies show early education programs that focus on children from birth to age three improve school-readiness and literacy rates.

"What's happening before kindergarten, even from birth, is getting the child ready and prepared for kindergarten. So we're actually the gateway to that continuum of education. "

After slashing funding to Parents As Teachers last year, the Missouri Legislature is slowly restoring the budget to the popular school-to-home program.

Another underlying issue for reading success in the third grade is educational stability. Don 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. And so 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's at

Heather Claybrook, Public News Service - MO