What Makes Third Grade so Critical for Students?

How can one grade have such an influence on a student’s future success? In third grade, students go from learning to read to reading to learn. They must be able to read in order to succeed in their classes and start to learn more robust information. Students’ ability to do this can make or break the rest of their education.

Numerous studies have found that if a third grader’s reading level isn’t up to par, the gap in knowledge will likely continue to grow and they will struggle as they advance in school. In fact, some have found that any child who’s not reading fairly well by the end of third grade is unlikely to graduate high school, according to The National Research Council. The Annie E. Casey Foundation says that students with relatively low literacy achievement tend to have more behavioral and social problems in subsequent grades.

A study of Chicago Public School students by researchers from the University of Chicago showed that while almost 80% of students who read above grade level in third grade graduated from high school within five years, only 45% of those who read below grade level graduated. And according to the U.S. Department of Education, only 34 percent of fourth graders nationwide can read with proficiency.

Some states are battling this problem by making it mandatory that struggling third graders be held back. These mandatory retention bills have already passed in Arizona, Florida, Indiana and Oklahoma, and are being considered in Colorado, Iowa, New Mexico and Tennessee. In Florida, a recent study compared students who just barely passed the reading test with students who just barely failed the test (and were held back). It showed that by seventh grade, those students who had been held back were outperforming their counterparts who had been promoted.

The arguments for mandatory retention include that moving students forward before they’re ready sets them up for failure, advancing students sends the message that they can get by without working hard, and that having students who are both advanced and struggling puts a strain on 4th grade teachers.

However, many disagree with this policy. David Berliner, a professor emeritus of education at Arizona State University, says, [The students] are a year older. Of course they’re going to do better when they get into fourth grade.” He also says that any gains experienced by being held back fade by eighth grade. There is also the worry that holding students back can hurt their self-esteemonly perpetuating failure.

Berliner even says that these laws are mean-spirited. He and others say that investing in the resources necessary to bring up third graders’ reading levels is the answerthat an individualized approach to each student is the correct approach.

Many have also talked about how summer learning loss can contribute to a student falling behind in third grade. Research is consistently showing that over the course of their summer break kids are losing some of the critical skills they learned during the school year. One study showed that when students are given a test at the beginning and end of their summer break, they score significantly lower at the end of their summer breakeven though it’s the same test.

Amanda Morin says that a child may have trouble in third grade if she can’t:

  • Read sight (or high frequency) words without stopping to think about it.
  • Write legible, complete sentences.
  • Automatically solve basic addition and subtraction facts up to 10. This includes doubles facts, double plus one facts and other fact family problems.
  • Create and solve the numerical sentences that go with story problems.

Title 1 literacy specialist Kathy Callister offers tips for parents on helping their students stay on course in third grade: ·

  • Talk to your children, from birth onward. Read aloud to them.
  • Make the library a fun place to go.
  • Enjoy nursery rhymes and songs together.
  • Build letter awareness by pointing out letters on signs and singing the alphabet song.
  • Point out the sounds that letters make, and have children listen for words that begin with a particular sound as you read to them.

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