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3rd Grade Literacy: How Much Progress Is Your State Making?

A new report ranks every state in the country on how it's doing at preparing students to be reading proficiently at the end of 3rd grade, a critical benchmark for later academic success. 

PreKAccess-graphic.pngReleased Monday by the policy think tank New America, the report didn't find any states that met all of its standards for "running" toward success—that is, putting state policies in place to fully support early literacy. That's not terribly surprising since the country as a whole does quite poorly at getting our children reading on grade level by the end of 4th grade; only about 33 percent meet that bar as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

To get a better sense of what states could do differently, New America scored them on their early education policies in seven categories:

  1. Educators: Teachers and Leaders (23 possible points)
  2. Standards, Assessment, and Data (18 possible points)
  3. Equitable Funding 
(18 possible points)
  4. Pre-K: Access and Quality (16 possible points)
  5. Full-Day Kindergarten: Access and Quality (13 possible points)
  6. Dual Language Learner Supports
(6 possible points)
  7. Third Grade Reading Laws (6 possible points)

The highest scoring state, New York, "would still only earn a C if we were using letter grades," the report states. Still, New York, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Connecticut, and Wisconsin are all "walking" in the right direction when judged by New America's measures.

The four all have a state-funded prekindergarten program, 3rd grade reading laws, school funding formulas that don't penalize districts in low-income communities, and high standards for early educators. Several of the "walking" states also offer or require full-day kindergarten.

The "crawling" category is much larger, and consists of 11 states that offer little or no state preschool program, meet few standards for encouraging high quality educators in the early years, and score poorly in categories like "equitable funding." Here's the bottom of New America's rankings: Kansas, Kentucky, Arizona, North Dakota, Utah, Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, South Dakota, New Hampshire, and Montana.

"Literacy and language gaps do not start in 3rd grade, or even in kindergarten, for that matter. They start much, much earlier," says the report, authored by Laura Bornfreund, Shayna Cook, and Abbie Lieberman. "The focus on early literacy must begin much before 3rd grade. Ideally, it should begin at birth."

Read the full New America report, "From Crawling to Walking," or just check out the cool interactive map they built to go with it.

Graphic: Only three states scored more than 12 out of 16 points on New America's assessment of state preschool access and quality. Courtesy New America.

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