Third-grade Reading Proficiency is Key to Reversing the "Skills Gap"

How important is reading to the skills gap? It's crucial.

Through third grade, children are learning to read. After that, they read to learn. That is why reading proficiently by the end of third grade is one of the most reliable predictors of future success for children. Students who develop strong reading skills by third grade are much more likely to graduate from high school and seek post-secondary education and training.

The problem is that, if students are not reading proficiently by the end of third grade, they very rarely "catch up." These students are four times more likely to leave school without a diploma. In fact, economists explain that the problem is growing; a nationwide shortfall of five million workers to fill jobs requiring post-secondary education and training by 2020.

Third-grade reading proficiency is key to reversing the skills gap, creating sustainable economic growth, and ensuring that students graduate from high school ready to succeed in the global economy.

A new report from the U.S. Business Roundtable, "Why Reading Matters and What to Do about It," gives more details. The report is the culmination of work by a task force of CEOs who are passionate about this topic and the future of the workforce. It was led by our very own, Dr. Goodnight, CEO of SAS.

This report explains that the demand for more highly-educated workers was actually accelerated by the recession and recovery.

  • Of the 11.6 million jobs added over the last six years, 99% went to workers who had some education or training beyond high school.
  • The remaining 1% -- only 80,000 jobs nationally -- were for those with a high school diploma or less.

The US Business Roundtable is proposing a six-step policy agenda to develop student reading proficiency necessary in today's economy. The focus of that agenda is to ensure children have strong early literacy skills as they enter kindergarten, and then systematically build on that foundation to help all students achieve reading proficiency by the end of third grade.

Reversing these trends is possible by improving third-grade reading proficiency.

To learn more, read Data Management and Analytics: Keys to Maximizing Student Literacy.

This content was reposted from the SAS Learning Post. Go there to view the original.

Georgia Mariani, SAS Principal Product Marketing Manager

Georgia Mariani is the Principal Product Marketing Manager for the Education Industry at SAS.

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Re: Three cheers for elevating third-grade reading levels
  • 2/16/2017 10:17:59 PM


In her blog post, Georgia writes

• Of the 11.6 million jobs added over the last six years, 99% went to workers who had some education or training beyond high school.
• The remaining 1% -- only 80,000 jobs nationally -- were for those with a high school diploma or less.


Data – actual facts (as opposed to "alternative facts") – are amazing tools, because they represent real-world, reality-based evidence to refute lousy policy assertions and decisions.

I recall that, just a few years back, in response to the palpable deterioration of America's education system and the difficulties of recent college grads to find jobs, the American public were being told that ... oh well, don't worry, college education really isn't that necessary, anyway. For most people, just a highschool diploma was probably all they'd need in the job market (so the line went).

Facts are such an excellent antidote to baloney ...


Re: Three cheers for elevating third-grade reading levels
  • 2/16/2017 9:10:11 AM

@James, sadly I think you're right.  As an adult I run into a lot of people who have difficulty reading at a low level.  If they fall behind it doesn't seem that many tend to catch up and it shows.  People don't sit down to write letters, they jot quick notes via social media and brush off the holes in their reading and writing skills as no big deal.  I'm a member of several local social media groups and trying to read some of the posts there leaves my head spinning.  I think we've become passive consumers and that means moving images because reading is hard and requires a higher level of attention.  People can half watch a movie and get an idea of what is going on but you can't open a book, leave it on the table while you're doing something else and have any idea what is going on in the book. 

On to solving the problem though since I see really young kids with tablets and phones now as primary toys.  How do you encourage a kid to read when they have a device that will do it for them?  Philanthropy seems to push technology when they get into the education fields so is it possible they are making the problem worse by handing kids laptops and tablets at elementary ages?


Re: Not the first time
  • 2/15/2017 10:36:14 AM

Even a a schoolboy I noiticed that the kids that didn't quite keep up in elememtary school fell way behind as their school career moved along. Although reading is certainly an important subject area, I wonder if there may be some equally important skill that should be taught in the early grades. And is there good evidence about pre-schools and how effective they are?

Re: Three cheers for elevating third-grade reading levels
  • 2/14/2017 8:15:49 AM

@Joe. I would love to see philanthropists supporting elementary ed, but I think the problem with reading goes much deeper. As a society we don't nurture a love of reading any more. Good teachers (and I admit my bias, being the father of a good teacher) can do their part to make reading exciting. I can't imagine how much of her own money my daughter has spent on grade specific books, and the time she has devoted to making books interesting through activities like theme days.

Yet, at 3 pm the kids go home to electronic baby sitters, television and video games. Every round of invention in the tech industry is one more step in reducing the need to read. No need to crack a book when Alexa is within the sound of your voice. Have a question, forget the owner's manual look for a Youtube video. Heck, kids don't even learn the fundamentals of conversation because if they go out for dinner mom and dad make sure they have their little game machines (and mom and dad are ignoring each other as well, tapping and swipingn on their phones). 

Why should kids read -- or learn anything -- when the adults set the example of living through headlines and sound bites? Everything you need to know about anything, served up in no more than 140 characters, including emojis. Want to read a book, just do Audible.

I won't single out today's society as being 100 percent to blame. When I was growing up the educational system couldn't wait to get us into reading the "classics". In junior high we spent what I think was an entire term studying Beowulf. Goodness, that's enough to make anyone refuse to open a book again. Then there was Shakespeare, yes many classics but translating him into the English kids understand won't make anyone love to read. America lit? We had Faulkner, who defied every rule of grammar and punctuation that we had been taught.

Personally, I don't care if kids read menus, magazines, or manuscripts. I just wish they would read.

Not the first time
  • 2/13/2017 12:12:59 PM

There have been studies in the past that lead to a number of early education initiatives( such as project headstart). We just seem to lose the will quickly. The results take years to see, but time and time again we prove it really does make a difference/

Three cheers for elevating third-grade reading levels
  • 2/13/2017 10:51:30 AM

Indeed, back several decades ago when philanthropists would donate to elementary-grade education (as opposed to now, when they tend to donate to colleges and college scholarships -- *long* after most educational development has already taken place), the quality of national education in the US was largely better.

It's nice to have this hard data in the hopes of leveraging it to bring back investment in education at some of the most pivotal times, education/development-wise, in children's lives -- and releasing it from the grip of higher-ed (which has begun to lose relevance in our loan-overburdened society of today).

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