Why is there all this talk about proficient reading at 3rd grade?

Research shows that children who are strong readers by the end of third grade are more likely to be successful throughout their school years and become proficient reading kids.

Most of the children who are struggling readers at this point in elementary school, however, will probably not catch up — not because it’s impossible, but because they would need intensive and appropriate regular instruction by trained specialists, and the motivation  to keep working hard despite feeling not-so-good about reading.

In other words, a negative cycle can occur for children who struggle:

Given that in the most recent data, over 63% of our nation’s fourth graders tested below proficiency, we have a real problem to solve.

So why focus on gaining proficiency by grade 3?

  • After grade three, the kinds of texts that children are asked to read have more sophisticated language and more complex ideas.These harder texts make the reading experience more challenging, and children need to have strong skills to take on these challenges. Up through third grade, the books children read on their own are mostly filled with conversational language that is easier for them to understand (because it is the kind of language that they use every day).
  • Books in grade four and above, including the books used in math, social studies, and science classes, require children to integrate the new ideas they are reading about with what they already know about a topic. Then, children are asked to use this new broader understanding to talk or write about the subject. That takes a lot of advanced literacy skills and each year the content gets more and more difficult; when struggling readers can’t keep up, they get more and more behind – and often disillusioned with school and learning.

What should parents do to make sure their children are on track to read well by the end of grade 3?

  • Start early. The skills children need to read well start accumulating at birth. Some of this skill building you are doing without knowing it, for sure, but it helps to know what types of skills you child needs to develop, and how those skills grow – so you can best prepare and support your child every step of the way.
  • Keep an eye on benchmarks. Remember that being aware of any potential issues is important because no one else is monitoring a child’s reading-related skill growth until, in most cases, kindergarten. Even then, because of the differences in educator training and curricula, and the transitions that occur from one year to the next, parents can’t rely solely on schools to ensure their children become strong readers. (Abound can be of help on the benchmark question. When you answer the Abound Q’s you’ll find out where your child is in the three types of skills it takes to read well.)
  • Don’t wait — speak up if you are at all concerned about your child’s progress. Ask your pediatrician, your childcare provider, or your child’s teacher to help you find ways to help your child read well. Remember, the earlier you catch issues the more likely the problems can be fixed. And meanwhile, use the Abound Recommendations to help support reading skill growth at home!

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