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 all Arkansas students will read at grade level by the end of third grade.
How close are we now?
By the end of the 2016-2017 school year, just 37 percent of all Arkansas third graders were reading on grade level, according to the ACT Aspire. For some subgroups of students, the rates are even lower. Only 22 percent of black students and 29 percent of Hispanic students were reading on grade level, compared to 42 percent of their white peers.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as “the nation’s report card,” shows how Arkansas compares to other states. Just 31 percent of Arkansas fourth graders read proficiently according to the 2017 results from the NAEP, the state ranks 39th out of 52 states.. The opportunity gap on the NAEP is even more distressing for Arkansas children of color and those who qualify for free or reduced price lunch.
Other assessments test skills differently, resulting in different proficiency rates. Beginning in 2015, students in Arkansas schools will begin taking Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exams.