Report: Assessing Reading Ability Gaps in Colorado 3rd Graders

Third grade is an especially important marker for children, because decades of research has shown a direct correlation between reading proficiency in third grade and a child’s educational trajectory 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 and 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 pressing problems in Colorado’s education system.

Proficiency on third-grade reading tests is one of the measures we use to assess Colorado’s performance on 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 education priorities of the state. Forthcoming legislation will likely focus on third-grade reading proficiency and interventions and the importance of early-childhood programs as the prerequisite for third-grade reading success.

To coincide with that discussion, the Bell Policy Center shares a research brief which uses the latest data from the Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP) and the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) to examine 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 Asian, white, and higher-income students and African-American, Latino, and low-income students. In fact, a greater percentage of African-American, 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.