Elementary School: The Other Side of the Equation
During President Obama’s most recent State of the Union. Obama reinforced the notion that the United States must produce more college graduates in order to compete in a global economy. Recent research now underscores the value of reading proficiency in elementary school, specifically 3rd grade, as a predictor for high school graduation. What does this mean for postsecondary educational attainment?
Third grade is an important benchmark both because it is a testing standard under NCLB, and third grade is typically the time when a student transitions out of learning how to read to reading critically. Without the development of those reading skills, students will falter through middle school and are unable to make explicit connections in their other academic subjects. Some schools stop teaching critical reading in middle school, so third grade becomes the only year in which the student can master this concept . Another alarming fact is that the learning often stops once the summer begins and students don’t open a book for three months during the summer vacation. This lack of preparation and inability to build off of the academic year snowballs into the later grades also affecting a student’s ability to write effectively.
One study (Hernandez 2011), released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, found that:
- One in six children who are not reading proficiently in third grade do not graduate from high school on time. A rate four times greater than that for proficient readers.
- Rates are higher for low and below-basic readers. Twenty-three percent of those children will drop out or not finish high school on time, compared to 9 percent of children with basic reading skills and 4 percent of proficient readers.
- Taking poverty into account, 22 percent do not graduate from high school, compared to 6 percent of those who have never been poor
- The rates were highest for poor Black and Hispanic children, 31 and 33 percent, respectively, or about eight time the rates of proficient readers
The study’s recommendations include focusing on schools, families, and local, state, and federal governments:
- A more integrated PreK-3rd grade approach to education focusing on (1) aligned curriculum, standards, and assessment from PreK through third grade; (2) consistent instructional approaches and learning environments; (3) availability of PreK for all children ages 3 and 4, as well as full-day kindergarten for older children; (4) classroom teachers who possess at least a bachelor’s degree and are certified to teach grades PreK-3rd; (5) small class sizes; and (6) partnershipbetween the school and families.
- Effective instruction for students to catch up when absent from school
- Improvement of health and human services, particularly for families who live at or below the poverty line.
- More local, state, and federal policies that support comprehensive health programs and promote the PreK-3rd initiative.
Elementary academic preparation is now more important than ever if the U.S. wants to reassume its position as the number one producer of college graduates. So how is College Summit responding to this data?
In recent months, College Summit has expanded its reach from high school to the elementary and middle schools through our partnership with the city of New Haven, CT. This partnership, a first of its kind, will focus on building a college-going culture and preparing students for college and career success through our programmatic (9-12 grade) work in every high school in New Haven. In addition to our work with high schools, we are working with a cohort of K-12 educators in the district to develop age-appropriate messaging materials and benchmarks for use in communicating the importance of college and career to students in grades K-8. Besides working on their reading comprehension skills, younger students will begin to see the value and effort involved in attaining a college degree and will be more likely to work harder and more intelligently in high school. College Summit and the city of New Haven will work together to ensure that all young people in the city have the opportunity to launch to postsecondary success.
You can learn more about the New Haven PROMISE program here.