Narrowing the Third-Grade Reading Gap Research Brief

Narrowing the Third-Grade Reading Gap Research Brief

Embracing the science of reading

64%

of all fourth-graders scored at basic or below basic reading levels in 2017
of all fourth-graders scored at basic or below basic reading levels in 2017

Students who still struggle to read by the end of third grade face significant, long-term challenges. Third grade marks the shift from learning to read to reading to learn, which means poor readers are at greater risk for falling behind in all other subjects and are less likely to attend college and secure a living-wage job. To prepare students for long-term success, it is imperative that districts provide all students with evidence-based reading instruction, particularly in early grades.

This research highlights our findings on the challenges with most reading instruction and introduces actionable strategies to improve reading outcomes. Our profiled strategies derive from districts that have achieved large-scale reading success over the span of several years.

Review the sections below and download to learn more about these challenges and the scientific insights that provide a blueprint for reading success.

Section 1: The challenge of teaching all students to read

The nation’s poor reading scores remain stagnant, despite the evidence suggesting that 95% of elementary students are cognitively capable of learning how to read. The good news is that multidisciplinary research provides valuable insight into how schools can improve reading outcomes for all children.

<3%

of human existence includes written language and reading. The human brain has not evolved to
learn reading naturally.
of human existence includes written language and reading. The human brain has not evolved to learn reading naturally.

Section 2: Scientific insights on how students learn to read

Reading is an incredibly complex activity that involves building neural pathways among four discrete regions of the brain. Therefore, educators should provide direct instruction to develop the foundational skills associated with each function. This includes phonological awareness, orthography and print concepts, phonics and word recognition, and fluency.

Section 3: What evidence-based reading instruction looks like

Research recommends that reading instruction should have an early emphasis on decoding skills and increasingly shift focus to reading comprehension as students demonstrate reading fluency.

Section 4: The disconnect between the science of reading and schools

Most reading instruction fails to align with science. Sufficient training and guidance on the science of reading and how to teach foundational word decoding skills are imperative for improving reading outcomes.

“A look at the research reveals that the methods commonly used to teach children to read are inconsistent with basic facts about human cognition and development and therefore make learning to read more difficult than it should be…. In short, what happens in classrooms isn’t adequate for many children.”

Mark Seidenberg, Cognitive Neuroscientist, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Section 5: The road to lasting reading success

Fortunately, large-scale reading success is achievable and has been demonstrated. Through our research, EAB has identified several districts that have dramatically improved reading outcomes, even among at-risk student populations.

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