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Reading Levels of Rural Students Worse Than Suburban Peers

Rural and urban 3rd graders' reading levels fell short of their suburban peers, according to a brief released Tuesday by the The Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire.

The reading score of an average 3rd grade rural student was 122 on a 212-point scale, which was nearly eight points lower, or about one-third of a standard deviation, than the score of an average suburban student. Urban students' scores were an average of six points lower than the suburban average.

"Although these differences are not large, even small differences in third grade reading achievement can have important effects on later educational outcomes," the brief stated.

Researchers attributed the achievement gaps among rural, urban, and suburban 3rd graders mostly to differences in poverty. But location was a factor for rural students who were struggling readers at the beginning of kindergarten. That group lagged their urban and suburban peers of the same socioeconomic status by 3rd grade.

The four-page brief offered a few potential explanations of why location would affect the achievement of rural children who were behind when they started kindergarten. Those included:

  • Rural students are less likely to attend preschool than urban and suburban children;
  • Parents of rural students tend to have less education than their urban and suburban counterparts; and
  • Rural students and teachers have less access to educational opportunities and resources than those in urban and suburban schools.

The Carsey Institute does applied and policy research on the challenges facing at-risk children and families in rural communities and small cities. For this brief, the researchers relied on information in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, a multiyear study of a nationally representative sample of more than 22,000 students between 1998 and 2006.

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