For years we’ve known that if students don’t read by the third grade, their chances of ever reading proficiently and achieving a high school diploma are substantially decreased. A recent study, “Double Jeopardy,” written by Hunter College Sociology Professor Donald J. Hernandez and funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, looked at the relationship between different levels of poverty and reading in the third grade to determine the effects of even short periods of poverty on graduation levels. The study reveals that:
- Students who don’t read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely not to graduate than proficient readers. This accounts to 16% of poor readers versus 4% of proficient readers
- Students who don’t master basic reading skills by third grade are 6 times more likely to not graduate
- To give an apples to apples comparison, the percentage of students not graduating from high school directly correlates to their reading level in the third grade–4% of proficient readers, 9% of basic readers, 23% of below basic readers
- Poverty also affects graduation rates. 11% of the top readers who spent at least a year living in poverty will not graduate on time. Only 2% of those who have never experienced poverty and read on grade level graduate late or not at all
- When poor reading skills are combined with a life lived in any amount of poverty, the rates are even higher: 22% of children who have lived in poverty do not graduate from high school. This is drastically different from those who have never lived in poverty (6%). For those students who have lived in poverty for over half their childhood the rate rises to 32%
- With a high concentration of poverty and poor schools in their neighborhoods, 31% of African American students and 33% of Hispanic students do not graduate on time
Given that many of our students qualify for free or reduced lunch, they are up against these same double barriers. And ultimately, 26% of children who experience poverty and reading levels below proficiency will not graduate from high school.
The solution has to come from three sources: schools, families, and governmental policies. The study suggests that improving these rates means getting parents, schools, and the government working together to create high quality PreKs and summer learning opportunities, to reduce chronic school absences and to increase access to quality healthcare–both to detect early learning problems and to give parents have access to essential support so they can better provide for their children.
As we gain a greater understanding of what early literacy means for students, it is clear that a focus on early elementary-aged students is crucial to help level the playing field and increase graduation rates for the students in our partner schools and children nation-wide.
Read the full study, “Double Jeopardy,” here. Summary by Natalie Auerbach.