Report: Assessing Reading Ability Gaps in Colorado 3rd Graders

Third grade is an important benchmark year for children. Decades of research have shown a strong relationship between reading proficiency in third grade and success through high school. Third grade is the point at which children transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.”

Children who are not proficient in third grade are less likely to be so in high school. They are also less likely than their proficient counterparts to graduate from high school. Overwhelmingly, the children not hitting these important milestones come from low-income and racial- and ethnic-minority families. Lower than average performance of these students continues to be one of the most critical problems in Colorado’s education system.

Reading: Gateway to Opportunity

Proficiency on third-grade reading tests is one of the measures we use to assess Colorado’s performance in the Bell’s third Gateway to Opportunity — Building a Solid Base for Literacy.

Gov. John Hickenlooper has made early literacy, measured by third grade reading scores, one of three statewide education priorities. Forthcoming legislation will likely focus on third-grade reading proficiency and interventions. Also expected to be addressed is the importance of early-childhood programs as the prerequisite for third-grade reading success.

The Bell has written a research brief using the data from the Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP) and the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP). We expect it to be useful in examining the performance of Colorado’s third graders in reading.

The Bell’s report finds almost three-quarters of all third-graders are proficient or advanced readers on the CSAP test. However, fewer than 4 in 10 Colorado third graders are proficient or advanced readers on the national NAEP test. This difference raises the possibility many Colorado third graders are not competitive when compared to national and international standards.

The data from both tests also show there are large gaps in reading proficiency between racial and ethnic groups. Asian, white, and higher-income students score higher than Black, Latino, and low-income students. In fact, a greater percentage of Black, Latino, and low-income students score partially proficient on the NAEP test than score proficient and advanced.

Ultimately, this research shows there is much work to be done to improve third-grade reading proficiency for all of Colorado’s students.