How Third Grade Reading Scores Influence Graduation Rates

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Last week I started a two-part series about Jayden, one of my former students, to look at how his third grade reading scores foreshadowed his future.  I met Jayden when he was five years old.  He was a Kindergarten student with an Individualized Education Program (IEP), and placed in my special education resource classroom for help with reading skills.  Today Jayden is a twenty-two year old adult.   We have kept in touch over the years and although his story is only one narrative, it is an important reminder of the gravity of our jobs as educators.

Jayden came into school with an IEP, which means he was identified as being delayed in his reading skills before age five.  He continued to fall behind other students his age in first and second grade.  By third grade he was reading at least one to two years below grade level, despite his general education teacher’s best efforts and my best efforts to provide interventions and strategies to improve his reading skills.

So how do third grade reading scores correlate to high school graduation rates?  A recent study links third grade reading scores, poverty, and high school graduation rates.  Double Jeopardy:  How Third Grade Reading Scores and Poverty Influence High School Graduation . The effect of “Double Jeopardy”, (being  disadvantaged in two or more areas at the same time), is key here.  This study shows how students with reading scores below grade level at third grade and poverty negatively impacts the child’s graduation from high school.

So, how important is it for our students to be reading proficiently by third grade?  With this longitudinal study, it appears there is a significant correlation between third grade reading and high school graduation.  If you are a Kindergarten, First Grade or Second Grade teacher, look around your room.  Think about each little child in your classroom and take ownership of that child’s reading skills and future graduation.  Third grade teachers cannot make up for three years of below grade level reading.  When I worked with Jayden, I didn’t have a sense of urgency about his reading level.  I knew he would learn to read, but I didn’t understand the significance of reading at grade level by the end of third grade.  I worked hard at my job.  I provided interventions and strategies to help my students improve their reading skills.  I knew it was important for them to read well and I prided myself on building good relationships with my students.  However, I didn’t understand that I should have had a sense of urgency for every child in my classroom to read at grade level by the end of every school year.  If someone had said to me “Around 30% of your students with similar reading scores and poverty rates to Jayden’s will not graduate from High School”, I think that statistic would have made me think more about Jayden’s future.

As I followed Jayden through his school career, he continued to lag behind others in reading skills in the upper elementary years.  Then he began to have behavior challenges and was suspended several times through middle school and high school. By ninth grade, he was skipping classes and continued to be a challenge for teachers.  Jayden dropped out of high school the first time with only three credits left to graduate with his class.  A year later, he wanted to finish school, so I went with him to the high school to re-enroll.  It was difficult being one of the older students and this time he stayed 6 months and completed one more credit before dropping out of high school.  After that, he didn’t go back.

Now I know the frightening correlation between third grade reading scores, poverty and graduation rates.  Twenty-two percent of all students who do not read proficiently in third grade, do not graduate from high school.  The statistic increases to 31% for black students and 33% for Hispanic students.   For Children who do not live in poverty and are good readers, all but 2% graduate from high school.

Now you know about the influence of third grade reading scores on graduation rates.  If you are a Kindergarten through third grade teacher, look around your room.  One out of every six students, who are living in poverty, may not graduate from high school.  That is approximately 3 or 4 of your students! Let’s all find that sense of urgency needed to get our students reading on grade level by the end of third grade.  Do it for each and every one of your students.  Do it for the next Jayden.

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