“He turned and reached behind him for the chocolate bar, then he turned back again and handed it to Charlie. Charlie grabbed it and quickly tore off the wrapper and took an enormous bite. Then he took another…and another…and oh, the joy of being able to cram large pieces of something sweet and solid into one’s mouth! The sheer blissful joy of being able to fill one’s mouth with rich solid food!
‘You look like you wanted that one, sonny,’ the shopkeeper said pleasantly.
Charlie nodded, his mouth bulging with chocolate.”
The above passage is from the beloved children’s book and movie, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. This book has been the subject of two movies and is considered a classic of children’s literature. It is also a book that is written at a third grade reading level.
A 2010 report compiled by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, titled Early Warning! Why Reading By The End of the Third Grade Matters, lays out a grim image of what happens to a child that is not reading proficiently at that age level. In 2009, 49 percent of low income students were below “Basic” reading level when they reached fourth grade. This correlates to a 23 percent drop out rate for these students. Even raising their reading level to “proficient” lowers their odds of dropping out to just 4 percent. Lower income students are at greater risk of dropping out because of a general lack of resources, including time with parents.
The focus in education switches at that point in most schools. For the first eight years of their lives, students are learning to read. They are picking up vocabulary, context, and learning the flow of a story. Fourth grade is a pivot point where they start reading to learn. Their understanding of the written word and how it is used contributes to learning about topics like science and history. Lagging behind in the basics of reading this point accelerates the learning gap.
Bringing students to a third grade reading level is a critical mark to hit in the education of students. It is not a goal to start working on in the August they enter third grade. There are many other opportunities before then to bring them up to grade level.
The first opportunity is getting them ready for kindergarten. We know that reading at an early age provides lifelong benefits. If they are ready to read when they start kindergarten, they are already ahead of the game. They have a larger vocabulary to work with and they are already starting to put together words and context.
Encouraging them to read over the summer keeps them from the dreaded “summer slide.” Like any other skill, if you are not using it you are losing it. Students who do not read over the summer can lose up to two months of learning. They will be forced to work hard to catch up. A little bit of reading daily, even if it is at bedtime, can help prevent that loss.
Beyond being able to read wonderful books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, proficient reading by third grade is crucial. It is a launching point on the educational path into new worlds. They are laying the groundwork, even at that young age, to get ready for college. It is important that educators and parents are making every effort to ensure their success.