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Elgin

The Importance of Third Grade Reading Scores

By: Tim Rogers

A growing body of research suggests that third grade literacy is a critical measuring point in a child’s life.  The likelihood of graduating high school, enrolling in a college and ultimately experiencing a higher overall quality of life are dramatically improved for students who are reading at or above grade level by the time they leave third grade (Stanovich, 1986).  This phenomenon has been referred to as the “Matthew Effect”, referencing the passage in the Gospel of Matthew that states, “For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.”  In other words, after third grade the academically rich will continue to get richer and the academically poor will fall further and further behind.

Research conducted by Donald J. Hernandez also confirmed the long-term effects of third grade reading scores.  Hernandez conducted a longitudinal analysis of 4,000 children over a ten-year span.  His research concluded that children who do not read proficiently in the third grade are four times more likely to not graduate high school than their counterparts who do read proficiently in third grade.  The likelihood of eventually dropping out of high school also increases depending on how poorly below proficiency a child reads in third grade.  Hernandez states that, “Third grade is an important pivot point in a child’s education, the time when students shift from learning to read to begin reading to learn” (Hernandez, 2011, p. 4).

Considering the research, it is no wonder that Annie Paul Murphy in a recent Time Magazine article wrote, “It might seem scary that a single year can foretell so much of a student’s future. But maybe we should feel grateful instead – that research has given us a golden opportunity to both build on what had already been accomplished or turn kids’ academic lives around” (Paul, 2012, para. 6).

References

Hernandez, D. (2011). Double jeopardy: How third-grade reading skills and poverty influence high school graduation. A report produced for the Annie Casey Foundation. Retrieved March 16, 2013 from http://www.aecf.org/

Lesnick, J., Goerge, R., & Smithgall C. (2010) Reading on grade level in third grade: How is it related to high school performance and college. Chicago: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.

Paul, A. (2012, September). Why third grade is so important: The ‘Matthew Effect’. Time, Retreived March 16, 2013 from http://ideas.time.com/2012/09/26/why-third-grade-is-so-important-the-matthew-effect/

Stanovich, K. (1986, Fall). Matthew effects in reading: Some consequences of individual differences in the acquisition of literacy. Reading Research Quarterly, 360-407.

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