Last year, the Annie E. Casey Foundation issued a special report, "Early Warning! Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters," which has become a clarion call to communities to support children's reading success by the end of third grade.
The report states third grade is a pivot point in children's academic success, and that if they are not reading at or above grade level at the end of third grade, their future success is in jeopardy. Third grade is the time when a child is expected to make the transition from "learning to read" to "reading to learn."
Studies show children who are successful by third grade are less likely to drop out of high school and more likely to go on to higher education. Seventyfour percent of children who are not reading on grade level by that time will never catch up to graduate with their class. And in case you don't think high school graduation rates impact you, consider that high school failure costs taxpayers between $320 billion and $350 billion a year in lost wages, taxable income, health care, welfare and incarceration costs, among others.
With a graduation rate hovering around 50 percent and fourth-grade English Language Arts scores at 29 percent proficiency, Buffalo's students personify the findings of this report. That is why Annie E. Casey and 80 national foundations and community organizations are calling for a communitywide priority on early childhood literacy from birth through age 8—through the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.
In fact, the National Civic League has partnered with the Annie E. Casey Foundation to create the All America City — Grade Level Reading Award. More than 160 communities, including Buffalo, are now competing for the award. To win, Buffalo must develop a pragmatic and community-driven plan to address three critical areas: school readiness, attendance and summer learning loss.
The good news for Buffalo is that a focus on early childhood literacy has been under way for some time through the Read to Succeed Buffalo Literacy Coalition. In partnership with the Buffalo Public Schools, the Literacy Coalition is creating a plan to give every child literacy-rich preschool experiences, aligned with high-quality, supportive teachers and classrooms in the early grades, ensuring their reading success by the end of third grade.
Research proves that when young children are surrounded by literacy-rich environments, are read to frequently, have the skills they need to enter school and are appropriately supported in the early grades, they will reach their highest potential.
The Literacy Coalition urges you to join us in support of our All America City—Grade Level Reading Award application and in the belief that reading by the end of third grade matters. For more information on the campaign, go to www.gradelevelreading.netor readtosucceedbuffalo.org.
Anne Ryan is executive director of Read to Succeed Buffalo.