In Tennessee, a school district’s number of proficient third grade readers is highly predictive of the number 8th graders who will be proficient five years later. The reason this fact is so very important is that 8th grade reading is highly predictive of high school outcomes and preparedness for work and college.
Take a look at the number of 3rd graders proficient in reading in a district and you will have a pretty good picture of how many of its graduates will be well equipped to contribute to the local economy as adults.
The message of this chart to school districts is that if you want more college and workplace-ready graduates, focus first on K-3 instruction–especially on students who lack social and economic advantages. Typically, they enter school a year or more below grade level and stay there throughout their school careers. The result: They are more likely to become net dependents on the economy, not net contributors, i.e., taxpayers.
These facts have been known for years, but what is less well known is the availability of reading instruction that can accelerate their academic growth. Certain types of reading instruction can enable disadvantaged children to learn at a rate that permits them to reach proficiency by grade 3—when schooling changes from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” Students who are up to speed in reading simply get more out of school.
We recommend a computer-based reading program called Funnix. It was designed for homeschoolers and based on a reading program that’s been used for decades in special education.
Parents should also pay attention to this chart. Some children improve between grades 3 and 8, but others do worse—so district averages stay about the same. But if your child is behind in 3rd grade reading, get them some help—Funnix or something else that is known to work.
Whatever the approach, virtually all Tennessee school districts need to improve and all should begin by examining their current K-3 practices and outcomes. As of last year, less than 50% of Tennessee 3rd graders were proficient in reading and only 20% of the state’s high school graduates were prepared for work or college.
Districts that are seriously committed to improvement need to confront the reality that real improvement will require a renewed commitment to effective K-3 instruction. Significant improvement after grade 3 is not impossible but relatively rare.