Beth Milne is a past member of the 50CAN team. 

In the first grade, I was unable to read or write. I was one of a few students selected to participate in a supplementary tutor program. For an hour twice a week, I met with a retired teacher to practice reading, writing and spelling. By the end of first grade, I was reading on level. By second grade, the extra nudge of my tutor had allowed me to excel in reading and I was reading two levels beyond my grade level. Nearly thirteen years have passed since my reading tutor helped me learn to read and I truly believe that being proficient in reading by third grade has allowed me to be successful academically.

Last month, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released a follow-up report to its 2010 report  “Early Warning! Why reading by the End of Third Grade Matters.” This report, along with another report entitled “Double Jeopardy: How Third-Grade Reading Skills and Poverty Influence High School Graduation,” showed the strong link between proficiency in reading in third grade, high school graduation rates and poverty. According to research, students who did not read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to not graduate from high school than those students who are proficient. In addition, 83 percent of low-income students were not proficient in reading by the end of third grade.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation offered a series of suggestions based on the research to improve third-grade reading outcomes for students, including improving school readiness, decreasing chronic absences, aligning curriculum and standards and increasing access to summer learning programs.

Last month’s “Early Warning Confirmed” reiterated the importance of third-grade reading and offered insight into how to improve outcomes. Allegheny County, Lehigh Valley and Reading, Pennsylvania have completed community solutions action plans as part of The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, which was launched as part of the original research report. This campaign has supported communities in improving school readiness and addressing chronic absence and summer learning loss.

Clairton School District and McKeesport Area School District, two schools in Allegheny County, have been implementing new programs to increase third-grade reading proficiency. In Clairton, reading curriculum for K-2 has been aligned. McKeesport has partnered with community centers to support early literacy as well as operating a summer literacy program for students and families. Allegheny County had some of the worst graduation rates in 2012 in the state and some of the lowest proficiency rates in grades K-5 reading.

The upcoming School Performance Profiles in the state will include a measure of students’ third-grade reading proficiency. The Department of Education will use this information to help districts improve on third-grade reading.

Being a strong reader by third-grade made me a strong student and allowed me to graduate high school on time and attend a four-year university. Even as a rising senior in college, I can still recall my reading tutor in the first-grade. Mastering skills early made all the difference for me as it does for students across Pennsylvania today.


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