How to Improve Third Grade Reading? Think about Two-Generation Strategies

November 14, 2014 – Lame duck session of the Michigan Legislature is where legislation introduced over the last two years will either get enacted or go back to the drawing board in January. There are some indications that the two bills before the Michigan House related to improving 3rd grade reading may be on the agenda to move. Like many others, we’ve also been talking about this issue for a long time – how could we not? The evidence is so powerful for the need for kids to be on target with their literacy skills at that point – the research tie is overwhelming between on-track reading by the 4th grade and academic success in the years to come.

We’ve talked before about the lack of a research base for utilizing grade retention as a strategy to improve reading. In fact, there is ample evidence to suggest that grade retention has nothing short of dire impacts on high school completion. We’ve also talked plenty about the research base that does exist to improve reading in the 3rd grade. A lot of that has to do with making sure that we close literacy gaps long before kids enter school at kindergarten. It also has to do with making sure that we help end summer learning loss and use the hours that children have outside of the classroom to support learning. Both of these strategies require taking a two-generation approach to policy and program – helping children thrive while helping their parents move ahead – another topic of discussion this week through the release of a national Kids Count special report on the topic.

There is no more deeply researched connection to the educational success of children than that to the educational success of their parents. Parents are their children’s first, best and most consistent teachers before the 3rd grade and well beyond. There are clear barriers to parents to support their young children’s education: struggles with basic needs, a lack of health and mental health services for children, adolescents and parents, and limited strategies to engage parents effectively in their children’s learning and development. In addition, there are too many parents who didn’t succeed themselves educationally – fully one in six births in 2012 were to mothers without a high school credential, and 13 percent of all young adults ages 18-24 (already parents or potential parents) are without that credential.

When the Governor and legislature look for researched solutions to build more 3rd grade reading success, in addition to the essential teacher training and other school and classroom improvements that smart minds within the educational community are considering, it will be critical to also consider strategies that:

  1. End literacy gaps before they start by supporting home visiting services and other supports for parents with the youngest children.
  2. Build a more level playing field at kindergarten entry by continuing to support investments in pre-k programs, coupled with better supports for high quality child care. Parents need programs that they can utilize so that they can get ahead in life while their children’s developmental and educational needs are being met.
  3. Ensure supplemental supports to early elementary children and families to stop gaps from growing through the school year and in the summer months through integrated student services and expanded learning opportunities.
  4. Make sure that parents are equipped to assist by supporting opportunities for them to build their own literacy skills, complete a high school credential and move into post-secondary and family supporting employment.

These are big investments that aren’t going to be made in the short weeks of the lame duck session before the end of this year. We urge the Governor and the next Legislature to recognize two-generation strategies as a way to build reading success beyond the 3rd grade and making Michigan a better state to successfully raise a family.

– Michele Corey