Third grade marks the point where children shift from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” Children who aren’t reading proficiently by this point can fall behind since they may have trouble comprehending more complicated reading material for history, English, science, and even word problems in math. Research shows these struggling readers are four times more likely to drop out of high school. If we want to close achievement gaps, strengthen Arkansas schools, and better prepare our state’s future workforce, we must ensure that every Arkansas student is a proficient reader by the end of third grade. Our goal is that by 2020, all Arkansas students will read at grade level by the end of third grade.
Just 31 percent of Arkansas fourth graders read proficiently according to the 2015 results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as “the nation’s report card.” The opportunity gap is even more distressing for Arkansas children of color and households living below the poverty level.
Other assessments, such as the Arkansas Benchmark Exam (the Benchmark), test skills differently, resulting in different proficiency rates. Students in third grade and above have typically taken the Benchmark each spring, but beginning in 2015, students in Arkansas schools will begin taking Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exams.