The ability to read and comprehend is the foundation of most other learning, and studies have shown that third grade is the make-or-break point for many students.
If they are adept readers by then, they normally go on to do well in school and to learn jobs skills readily. If, however, they can’t read by the time they move on to fourth grade, students generally fall farther and farther behind as their literate classmates continue to master progressively more difficult subject matter.
The Indiana Department of Education formally recognized third grade as a reading landmark last year when it launched the Indiana Reading Evaluation and Determination (IREAD) assessment, which demands that third-graders meet reading standards before promotion to fourth grade.
At the turn of the 21st century, Madison County’s third-graders were lagging seriously behind when it came to reading. In 2001, only 45 percent of the county’s third-graders passed the language arts portion of Indiana Statewide Testing for Education Progress (ISTEP). At that point, as many as half of local third-graders were destined to struggle through the remainder of elementary school, middle school and high school because of lagging reading ability.
Well, thanks to an intense focus on improving third-grade literacy levels, a much different story can be told today. In 2012, 86 percent of local third-graders passed the language arts portion of ISTEP. That represents a 41 percentage point improvement from 11 years ago, and means that the vast majority of local third-graders are now set up for success as they move ahead to the fourth grade and beyond.
Skeptics might suspect that ISTEP standards have declined over the past decade and the test has become easier. But the local improvement far outstrips the statewide improvement over the years. Since 2006, the statewide passing rate has increased by just 11 percentage points.
So, how did we do it?
The Madison County Community Alliance to Promote Education (CAPE) has led the way with early-childhood literacy programs designed specifically to reach students who might be at risk of falling behind. By providing books and guidance to parents, for example, CAPE has engaged preschool students to give them a head start in learning to read.
School administrators, teachers, parents and students themselves have all played important roles in pushing the third-grade ISTEP language arts passing rate higher and higher. At Alexandria schools, for example, an eight-step process that includes a focus on remediation has keyed a “no-excuses” approach to improving test results from less than 70 percent passing to 94 percent passing in 2012.
Meanwhile, Anderson Community Schools’ third-grade ISTEP language arts passing rate has climbed to 79 percent.
As a community, we’ve come a long way in getting kids reading proficiently by third grade. But there is still work to be done, more than 20 percent of ACS third-graders aren’t there yet. With programs such as CAPE and a strong commitment from local parents and educators, fewer and fewer Madison County kids will find themselves left behind in literacy as they enter fourth grade.
In 2012, 86 percent of local third-graders passed the language arts portion of ISTEP. That represents a 41 percentage point improvement from 11 years ago.