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Report: 3rd Grade Reading Skills Predict High School Graduation

April 20, 2011

RALEIGH, N.C. - North Carolina children who struggle with reading in third grade are more likely to miss out on a high school diploma, according to a new study which followed thousands of students nationwide through their school years.

Those not reading at grade level are four times more likely not to graduate, the study found, and chances of failure are even higher for children living in poverty and minorities.

Report author Donald Hernandez, a senior advisor at the Foundation for Childhood Development, says reading skill must 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."

In North Carolina, Smart Start helps thousands of children get a jump on reading skills through its early-childhood education programs, although some of its funding is in jeopardy as the state considers budget cuts.

Jack McCarthy, managing director of the AppleTree Institute for Education Innovation 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 preschool programs have stronger literacy skills when they reach grade school, even if they live in poverty.

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

"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."

The full report, "Double Jeopardy: How Poverty & Third Grade Reading Skills Influence High School Graduation," was commissioned by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and is online at http://ht.ly/4xNNK

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC