Rhode Island · School Talk

3rd Grade Reading Tells Us a Lot About Who Is Likely To Finish High School

Third grade reading scores are a very big deal because they are accepted as the most predictive indicator of whether a student will finish high school. Hey Rhode Island, our 3rd grade reading results should be a very loud wake up call. Despite some significant improvements since 2015, our results were flat between last year and this year and our overall proficiency rates are unacceptably low for far too many of our third graders.



The good news is that every subgroup, with the exception of Native American students, has improved since 2015. The bad news is that the percentage of proficient readers in third grade is stunningly low, particularly when it comes to Black students, Hispanic students, students with disabilities, English Language Learners, and low income students. (Note that in the graph below, not a single group listed even reaches 30 percent.) That means that when we line up 10 children, we can’t even say that three of them in any of these groups read at grade level. We need to let that sink in.


When we line up 10 boys, we can’t even say that 4 of them read at grade level. And while the girls outperform the boys by a whopping 10 percentage points, we can’t say that 5 out of 10 girls are proficient third grade readers. And yet, nobody seems to be talking about this.

What About Everyone Else?

Higher income students far outperform low income ones with 56 percent of third grade students in that category reading at grade level. Again, line up ten third grade kids whose parents have more money and still, we cannot say that 6 out of those ten can read at grade level. If we disregard income and look only at white students, we can’t evens ay half of them read at grade level…though they came very close with 49 percent showing proficiency.

It is encouraging to see that the largest gains were made by our most under-perfoming groups:

Hispanic students went up the most with a 6 percent increase since 2015 (but no increase since last year). Black students and low income students showed the second highest gains with 4 percent increases. They too showed no increase at all from 2016 to 2017.

What’s the Plan, Stan

To their credit, Governor Raimondo and her administation have made third grade reading a priority by setting a goal with a deadline. The Providence Journal covered it back in September of 2016:

“Today, I’m drawing a line in the sand and setting a clear goal for Rhode Island: By 2025, when the kids who were born this year reach third grade, three out of four will be reading at grade level,” Raimondo said in a prepared statement.

“When I see that just over a third of our third graders are reading on grade level, I’m disappointed, frustrated and I’m impatient,” she said. “Study after study shows that the number-one indicator of high school graduation and future success is a child’s ability to read on grade level by third grade.”

While she isn’t putting any dollars into the initiative, she has promised to build on programs that already exist and make this a shared priority between the Department of Education, the Department of Children, Youth and Families, and the Department of Human Services. Time will tell if the collaboration bears fruit.

But we, as parents, must also be part of the plan. We are always talking about school stuff whether it be on Facebook or on the sidelines of our kids’ games but somehow these reading results don’t make it into most conversations. We need to change that. Even if our own child is reading above grade level, our communities and our state as a whole are gravely impacted when children—who later grow into adults—aren’t fully literate.

We must care. Not only is it part of our humanity to want the best for other people’s children but also, our economy simply can’t afford for us not to care about this.



The Rhode Island Reads campaign has put together a social media toolkit. This may be one way for parents to lean in on this issue, just to help get more folks informed and involved when it comes to the hard—and necessary—work of getting third graders reading at grade level. The toolkit is linked here. 






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