Early Grades Crucial in Path to Reading Proficiency (Education Week)

States press to ensure that children in the earliest grades get the literacy support they need to meet crucial 3rd grade milestones

Children who are not reading proficiently by 3rd grade are widely seen as being in academic crisis. Educators are increasingly looking for actions they can take in the younger grades—even as early as preschool—to head off failure later in a child’s school career.

The stakes are clear: Studies have shown that absent effective intervention, children who read significantly below grade level by 3rd grade continue to struggle in school and eventually face a much higher likelihood of dropping out altogether.

To tackle the problem, states have implemented a variety of policies intended to help identify reading problems before they become entrenched, and then steer children into instruction that will change their trajectory. Such policies include training teachers in research-based reading interventions, connecting students with specially trained reading instructors, offering one-on-one and group instruction in reading, and providing summer school to students who need help.

Student retention as a part of a strategy to support early literacy has vocal critics as well as supporters. But no one is arguing against the importance of ensuring that children are reaching reading milestones throughout the early grades.

“We’re encouraging what we’re calling smart and sensible 3rd grade reading policies,” said Ralph Smith, the managing director of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, a coalition of organizations that promote early literacy. “Early identification, support, and, where necessary and appropriate, retention as an intervention—but not as a punishment.”

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