Third-grade reading affects long-term success

November 14th, 2014

News Coverage:

Third-grade reading affects long-term success

Posted: Thursday, November 13, 2014 11:00 pm

Third grade is a watershed year for children.

At the end of that year, all Indiana students take IREAD-3, the state reading test. Failure on this test is a life-changing hurdle for students. It is also a dramatic expense for schools and it takes its toll on our region’s economic development if the low reader never catches peers in terms of job preparation.

To “move the needle” toward reading success, a team of 26 persons – representing youth-serving nonprofits, churches, area foundations, the United Way, libraries, school districts and business – formed the Big Goal Collaborative’s third grade reading action team.

As we worked together, two things became apparent: First, northeast Indiana schools are doing a remarkable job at this challenge and, second, school support is not enough.

For example, the number of words a child knows can vary greatly and low vocabulary means low reading comprehension. Children from families on welfare hear approximately a third fewer words per hour as children from professional families. Language exposure is demonstrated by reading proficiency in third grade and, from there, a child who cannot succeed falls behind rapidly. Many drop out before finishing high school, a disaster for ever making good wages.

Children not reading proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school.

-Carpluk, W. (2013). 

The Vital Link: Early Childhood Investment is the First Step to High School Graduation. www.ReadyNation.org

Poor reading skills predict unfavorable life outcomes. The Allen County Juvenile Center has many incarcerated youths who are low readers. If northeast Indiana is to achieve the Big Goal of 60 percent of our population in northeast Indiana having a post-secondary credential or degree by 2025, we have to help the second graders whose skills won’t succeed on our metric, IREAD-3, by the end of third grade.

Intervening early in reading development is important. We all know that one person helping one person produces a positive result. The focus of the third- grade reading action team has been to provide tools for tutors and mentors of struggling readers.

There are multiple regional projects underway right now including a collaboration between the University of Saint Francis and Forest Park Elementary that involves college students reading with second graders; and a free online video series that teaches any adult how to help a struggling reader (sponsored by the United Way of Allen County, CVC Communications, the Big Goal Collaborative and Project Reads).

Classroom experience is important to prospective teachers because nearly 48 percent of new teachers leave the profession in the first five years, leaving a massive talent deficit in education. The cost to states is estimated at about $7 billion for the revolving door spinning new teachers out. They leave because they are not respected, because they are not mentored in the first years of practice, because of too many students in one room and because of the paperwork load.

To counteract those challenges, USF and Forest Park agreed to undertake a pre-service teacher project that began last spring. Thanks to its success, USF professor Brandi Prather-Leming is replicating the project this fall.

Prather-Leming and Principal Robin Peterman created a tutoring partnership between Forest Park, part of Fort Wayne Community Schools, and a pre-service teacher class at USF. In this project, elementary education majors visited second-grade classrooms at Forest Park to tutor in reading. The college students and 80 second graders worked together on research-based reading skills.

A focus group of pre-service teachers gathered information about this collaborative project. The college students were welcomed as colleagues by the teachers, which they did not expect. The students liked that they worked with individual children and were not just observing.

A USF student said, “I feel like I am making more of a difference here because I am working with kids who need help, and I can use more of the instructional strategies I am learning.”

A big “aha” was watching classroom teachers learn, saying that it’s O.K. to show your students that you are learning too. Forest Park teachers were getting used to the influx of students at Forest Park who do not speak English or who have reading difficulties.

Peterman, said, “I see these pre-service teachers as the hope for the future of teaching.”

This project has helped college students to understand that education can be a satisfying career and supportive climates exist.

Prather-Leming said the experience with Forest Park was positive and her 2014-15 students will have a similar opportunity. She is reaching out to other colleges in the 10-county area of the Big Goal Collaborative to invite replication of this in-school experience for pre-service teachers.


Linda Michael, a Fort Wayne business owner, is a consultant for non-profits, government agencies, and schools. She specializes in program evaluation, proposal design and organizational capacity development for small agencies. She currently acts as a consultant for the Big Goal Collaborative, focusing her efforts on the K-8 Action Team.