1. Home
  2. Knowledge Base
  3. Reading proficiently by 3rd Grade – An Inflection Point

Reading proficiently by 3rd Grade – An Inflection Point

Third grade reading proficiency represents an inflection point – setting a child on-track for high-school graduation and life success. Two-thirds of Georgia third graders cannot read proficiently, meaning they cannot read, write and comprehend. The good news is that all of us have the power to set kids up for success, by reading to them 15 minutes a day.

Words are power.

“Use your words,” is a common refrain for teachers and parents trying to work with a child. But what if the child doesn’t have the right words? How can they express themselves if they don’t have the tools to do so?

Language proficiency in kindergarten is the best indicator of reading proficiency in 3rd grade.

Reading at level in 3rd grade is the number one indicator of high school graduation. This is regardless of poverty or parental education status.

Students who cannot read proficiently at their grade level by the end of 3rd grade are four times more likely than their proficient counterparts to drop out of high school and are more likely to experience long-term behavioral and mental health issues.

In Georgia, 37% of 4th graders are reading below the National average for reading achievement.

Third grade signifies the shift from learning to read to reading to learn, as children begin to apply their reading skills to other subjects like math, science, and history. At this time, a child is expected to know how to read and write simple stories and to associate spoken words with their written form.

The good news is that we do not need fancy programs or expensive interventions. All of us have the tools necessary to help kids to enter kindergarten ready to read.

Starting at birth:

#1 Talk to children

#2 Read to children 15 minutes a day

Read on to learn how we can make simple changes in our lives and how we can advocate for life readiness for all children.

  • 15 min a day of reading starting at age 6 months is the number one way for kids to enter Kindergarten ready to learn to read.
  • Limiting screen time and increasing exposure to books and other reading materials between the ages of 3 and 5 leads to better neurological development. Library cards in Georgia are free for all Georgia residents through the Pines Library system. These library cards provide access library books and online resources. Some counties issue temporary e-cards if you are unable to apply for a permanent.
  • In the time of Covid-19, many parents have been forced to work from home and rely on television or devices to occupy their children. Bearing this in mind, parents should apply closed captioning to as much programming as possible. Closed captioning improves word recognition, ability to decode language, and supports vocabulary acquisition.
  • Turn daily tasks into learning opportunities. Examples: placing labels on objects at home, having your child read labels at the grocery store, and reading signs out loud.
  • Access free online reading resources such as PBS Kids, Get Ready to Read, and Reach Out and Read. Check out resources from our partners.

Definitions of Literacy Terms

TermDefinitionNAEP DefinitionPercentage of 4th grade Georgians in 2019 (NAEP)
IlliterateInability to read and write
Low Literacy / At Grade Level (basic)Ability to read and write between the 5th and 8th grade level of difficulty. Low levels of reading comprehension.At grade level (basic) – understand the words, answer simple questions, get through the written material in a certain amount of time31%
Literate / ProficientAbility to read, write, and comprehend. (Comprehension is the ability to apply and utilize what is read).Proficient – make reasonable inferences from the material.32%

Frequently Asked Questions about Early Childhood Literacy

How does Pre-K an Kindergarten readiness contribute to reading level achievement in K-12?
Participating in high quality child care programs, prekindergarten, Early Head Start, and Head Start increase and improve a child’s literacy level before entering grade school. Pre-K standards should be aligned to K-12 readiness standards to ensure maximum success as a child transitions into grade school. Alignment strategies include improving teacher preparation and instruction and implementing developmentally appropriate assessments such as student interviews that gauge each child’s individual skill level. The effect of quality preschool persists over time. Studies have shown that preschool programs provide the foundational skills necessary for later academic success. For example, early counting skills during the transition to kindergarten can be a good indicator of a child’s future performance on advanced mathematics assessments.
What kinds of mental health and behavioral issues can affect children who do not meet literacy milestones?
Kids who have reading difficulties can experience anxiety or depression as a result of not meeting the appropriate milestones. Being unable to read or understand class content leads to decreases in self-worth and self-esteem, and an inability to express frustrations. Internalizing frustrations may lead to poor mental health. Externalizing frustrations may include misbehaving in school and getting into physical fights beginning a destructive cycle of detention, out-of-school suspension, and decreased class-time.
What is a home reading environment?
A home reading environment is a concept that is used to describe how much exposure children are having to books at home and/or if they are being read to at home by a parent, caregiver, or guardian. Parents and caregivers who read to or with children at home and that have books at home are associated with increased activation of certain parts of the brain that control visualization.
Factors that can influence a child’s reading and comprehension skills can include the home reading environment, maternal reading fluency, maternal mental health, and a child’s physical health.
What is the Get Georgia Reading campaign?
The Get Georgia Reading campaign was created in 2013 in response to low third grade reading achievement statistics throughout the state of Georgia. Private, public, state, and local organizations have come together to apply a four-pillar framework aimed at helping all Georgia third graders reach their corresponding reading level. The four pillars include access, language nutrition, productive learning climate, and teacher preparation and effectiveness.
Language nutrition refers to adult-child interactions that are rich in language and therefore critical for brain development. Access refers to children and families having access to support services and high-quality early childhood and elementary education. Productive learning climate refers to the impact of the school climate on social-emotional development, attendance, and engagement as well as long-term success. Teacher preparation and effectiveness refers to teachers being prepared to deliver high-quality, evidence-based instruction, specific to the unique needs of each child.
How does maternal reading and writing affect child literacy?
Lower maternal reading and writing levels are linked to decreased development of reading and language networks in a child’s brain. Mothers who are more proficient at reading are able to provide high quality reading that fosters the acquisition of reading skills in children.  Parental literacy programs can improve a parent’s reading and/or writing skills and, in turn, the skills of their children.
Why is maternal mental health significant for a child’s literacy development? At what stage does it have an impact?
Current research has not yet indicated that there is an exact age at which a child’s reading and comprehension skills are impacted by maternal mental health. However, maternal depression and anxiety can affect a child’s physical and mental health starting from the prenatal stage to adolescence. Infancy and toddlerhood may be marked by lower cognitive performance, anger, passivity, and less creative play. A child who is school-age may experience attention deficit or hyperactivity disorders, anxiety and/or depression that affects academic performance.
Does physical health contribute to childhood literacy?
Poor physical health can be a contributing factor to low child literacy if a child is chronically absent to due to illness or distracted by constantly feeling unwell. Low attendance means a student will miss out on key learning opportunities and peer interaction. School-age children can concentrate better and retain more information if they have a healthy diet. Exercise helps children develop coordination of large and small muscles which are important for daily tasks such as using scissors, writing, and getting ready for school.
What effect do home air quality and toxins have on development?
An often-overlooked risk factor for reading problems and learning disabilities is exposure to neurotoxicants in the environment. Many of these exposures occur prenatally.
Lead exposure via paint, water, or soil can also have varying degrees of impact on the development of the brain. Children living in homes built before 1950, or government housing are at an increased risk of being exposed to lead and experiencing permanent brain damage.
Polybrominated diphenyl (PBDE’s), a compound that used to be commonly uses as a fire-retardant in fabrics, furniture, electronics, wire insulation, and infant products, can induce structural and functional changes in the brain of a developing fetus. The compound crosses the placental barrier and impair the development of functional connectivity in the reading network of the brain. While they are being phased out – avoiding ripped or torn furniture with exposed foam, can cut down on exposure.
Columbia University Center for Children’s Environmental Health out together guides on how to avoid common toxins in the home.
What is the difference between rural and urban literacy rates?
The percentage of students achieving proficient learner status or above on the 3rd Grade ELA Milestones is disproportionately higher in urban areas, namely the Metro Atlanta area and surrounding suburbs compared to more rural north, middle, and south Georgia. In smaller urban areas like Savannah and Macon, there are pockets where 49.5 to <92.6% of third grade students are achieving proficient learner status or above.
Is there a racial disparity in reading rates?
Black and Hispanic children face significant barriers when it comes to literacy and education in the U.S. compared to their White and Asian counterparts. In 2016, the percentage of children under 18 who live in poverty was higher for Black and Hispanic children that it was for Asian and White children. The percentage of children receiving center-based care (e.g. daycare) was lowest among Hispanic families. In 2017, there was a 27-point difference in reading achievement scores between Black and White children. The difference in scores was 19 points between Hispanic and White Children. Black children also have higher rates of out-of-school suspension than any other ethnic group. The high school completion rate is highest among White students compared to Hispanic and Black students.
Updated on June 14, 2023

Article Attachments

Was this article helpful?

Stay Connected!
Sign Up for our newsletter to stay in the know.
Sign Up for Sci4Ga's Newsletter

Leave a Comment