College & Workforce Readiness Report Roundup

Study: Reading Problems Can Flag Potential Dropouts

By Sarah D. Sparks — April 19, 2011 1 min read

A student who can’t read on grade level by 3rd grade is four times less likely to graduate by age 19 than a child who reads proficiently by that time, according to a new study. Add poverty to the mix, the report concludes, and a student is 13 times less likely to graduate on time than his or her proficient and wealthier peer.

“Third grade is a kind of pivot point,” said Donald J. Hernandez, a sociology professor at Hunter College, at the City University of New York, and the author of the study, which was released this month at the American Educational Research Association convention in New Orleans. “We teach reading for the first three grades, and then after that, children are not so much learning to read but using their reading skills to learn other topics. In that sense, if you haven’t succeeded by 3rd grade, it’s more difficult to [remediate] than it would have been if you started before then.”

Mr. Hernandez analyzed the reading scores and later graduation rates of 3,975 students, born between 1979 and 1989, in the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ National Longitudinal Study of Youth 1979. He found that 16 percent overall did not have a diploma by age 19, and that students who had struggled with reading in early elementary school grew up to constitute 88 percent of those who did not receive a diploma. That made low reading skills in 3rd grade an even stronger predictor of dropping out of school than having spent at least a year in poverty during childhood.

The study was released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, of Baltimore, to promote its new focus on improving learning during children’s early years.

A version of this article appeared in the April 20, 2011 edition of Education Week as Early Reading Problems Flag Potential Dropouts

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