NSBA’s Center for Public Education releases white paper on mastering literacy

Third grade is a critical point in every child’s education. Those who do not learn to read proficiently by the end of third grade face “daunting hurdles to success in school and beyond.”

That’s one of the important messages of “Learning to Read, Reading to Learn: Why Third Grade is a Pivotal Year for Mastering Literacy,” a white paper recently released by NSBA’s Center for Public Education (CPE).

Too many students are still struggling with literacy by the end of third grade—and are at risk of future failure in school and in adult life, the CPE report warns. The good news, however, is that school boards have a number of opportunities to turn things around for these children.

“Research shows us how to do this—high-quality pre-K, more time for learning, effective teachers, family outreach and, importantly, the will to invest in our youngest students,” says CPE Director Patte Barth.

The challenge for school boards is to recognize—and look for ways to counter—the many barriers that can stymie a child’s reading development, the report notes.

Young children, for example, may enter school at a disadvantage because they have not been exposed to enough conversation at home, no one has read to them, or they lacked access to early educational opportunities. An unstable home life also can result in poor school attendance in the early grades.

These barriers to learning can have an impact on a child that extends throughout their school career and beyond, CPE reports. One national study found struggling readers are four times more likely to drop out of high school and, as adults, these dropouts can cost society an estimated $260,000 in lost earnings, taxes, and productivity.

The report concludes with a list of issues that school boards can address to increase the likelihood of success for students struggling with literacy. And school boards will be amply rewarded for their efforts, Barth says.

“Making sure all children are proficient readers by third grade will go a long way toward closing the achievement gaps that exist between low-income students and their wealthier classmates.”

The white paper was developed in partnership with NSBA’s Black Council of School board Members, Hispanic Council of School Board Members, National Caucus of American Indian/Alaska Native School Board Members, and the Council of Urban Boards of Education.

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