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Sacramento’s Bold Third Grade Reading Initiative

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Parents and educators alike have good reason to be concerned about the appalling statistics on the reading proficiency of America’s school children. A recent report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, EARLY WARNING! Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters, presented some of the frightening statistics. Approximately one-third of 4th graders are reading below the basic level on the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress), and two-thirds are below proficient. The results are even more staggering for low income students where half are below basic and 83% are below proficient. With reading deficiencies such as these, many American children are on the fast track to dropping out, not just from school, but from the American dream and the road to economic prosperity. The time to address this problem is now.

As a parent, there are many things you can do to develop your child’s reading skills and set the stage for success in school as well as later in life.

  • Create a daily reading routine with your child, beginning in infancy, not just during the school year and during the summer to prevent learning loss. As children develop their reading skills, continue to read to them or ask them to read to you, eventually transitioning to silent reading.
  • Model reading for your child, demonstrating that reading is important.  
  • As children are developing their reading skills, point out letters on signs and labels.
  • Help your child practice their writing skills by writing notes or making shopping lists.
  • Tell family stories or recite folk tales.
  •  Engage your child in meaningful conversations during routine activities such as driving in the car or doing chores together. These language-rich activities plant the seeds that encourage a lifelong love of reading.

One community that is taking a laudable stance on promoting literacy is Sacramento, California where Mayor Kevin Johnson recently announced the launch of The Third Grade Reading Campaign, which aims to become a national model for promoting third grade literacy. The goal of the program is to ensure that all third graders in the greater Sacramento area are reading at grade level within a decade. With three major areas of focus—school readiness, school attendance, and ensuring summertime learning, Sacramento is one of, if not the first city in the nation to develop such a strong collaborative effort and targeted focus to tackle this pervasive problem.

And why the emphasis on third grade? Until third grade children are learning to read; after third grade they are reading to learn. Today, according to Mayor Johnson, only 39 percent of third graders are reading at grade level in Sacramento. Despite slight increases in academic achievement over recent years, the gap is not closing quickly enough.

At the Mayor’s press conference in late March, I had the privilege of speaking about Knowledge Universe’s support for this initiative and our commitment to Sacramento’s literacy campaign. As the nation’s largest provider of early care and education, we have the responsibility to ensure that our programs offer literacy rich environments where children have exposure to oral and written language at an early age –and to lend our expertise and resources wherever we can to help give every child in every community the gift of a lifetime—learning to read.

As the Executive VP of Knowledge Universe, Dr. Elanna S. Yalow, Ph.D., M.B.A. is responsible for supporting the global expansion of early childhood education programs.  She is also a member of the Mom Congress Advisory Board.