Third Grade Reading

Third Grade Reading


K-3 Reading Proficiency and Early Literacy

Early literacy has proven to have a significant relationship with graduation rates across a variety of contributing factors. According to research, third graders who are not reading at grade level are among the most vulnerable to drop out of school later. A longitudinal study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that students who were not proficient in reading by the end of third grade were four times more likely to drop out of high school than proficient readers. In fact, 88 percent of students who failed to earn a high school diploma were struggling readers in third grade.

Third grade has been identified as important to reading literacy because it is the final year children are learning to read, after which students are “reading to learn”. If they are not proficient readers when they begin fourth grade, as much as half of the curriculum they will be taught will be incomprehensible. The question for states then becomes whether students who are not able to be proficient readers by the end of third grade should be retained.

Grade retention, more commonly known as being held back, refers to the practice of requiring a student to remain at the same grade level for a second school year. While some believe that retention can be damaging to a student socially and increase the chances of later dropout, others believe “social promotion,” or moving on a student who is not at grade level academically in order to maintain their social development, can be just as harmful. States need to consider the cost of remediation for students that are socially promoted as well as the costs of retaining students for an extra year of schooling.  

In addition to promotion/retention legislation, lawmakers across the country are addressing the issue of K-3 literacy through a myriad of education policies including effective teacher-preparation programs with an emphasis on the teaching of reading, high expectations for special populations, early-warning systems to identify children who are falling behind, additional time during the school day for intervention, information for parents about the strategies that will be used to help their children, use of reading coaches to provide on-site professional development for teachers, and policies to address chronic absence and summer learning loss.

High-quality early education programs provide an opportunity to get children on the right track by building a strong foundation for pre-reading and school readiness skills. Research documents the importance of early experiences on brain development, and educators and policymakers now have a deeper understanding of how to best foster young children's learning. Research shows that participation in high-quality Early Care and Education (ECE) programs including child care, prekindergarten, Head Start and Early Head Start can increase children’s language and literacy skills before school entry.

Legislatures have been very active in designing and funding early education programs. These are often programs that target children at risk of school failure or children living in districts with low performing schools. Research shows that the achievement gap starts well before kindergarten and only continues to grow. High quality early learning environments can help children be ready for school, improve achievement, reduce placement in special education, reduce grade retention, and increase high school graduation rates. In addition, high quality early learning programs provide an opportunity for the development of non-cognitive skills such as executive function and self regulation. These skills make learning possible and are a greater predictor of school achievement than IQ, and are more predictive of math and reading scores from pre-K through high school. It is important to provide the opportunity to help children learn these skills early before they become actual behavior problems in elementary school.

Below are examples of how states are addressing K-3 literacy. 

State Actions



SB 2347

Establishes the Literacy Based Promotion Act to improve kindergarten and first through third grade public school students' reading skills so that every student completing third grade reads at or above grade level; requires school districts to provide intensive reading instruction and intervention to students exhibiting a substantial deficiency in reading in kindergarten and grades 1 through 3; prohibits the promotion of students exhibiting reading deficiency that is not remedied before the end of 3rd grade.



SB 1529

Requires the State Board of Education and Department of Education to develop, administer and oversee a ten-year statewide kindergarten through 3rd grade reading proficiency program. Allows schools to use state funds to implement state-approved reading plans. Encourages schools to focus on literacy development for kindergartners through second graders. Directs the ADE to solicit grants and private donations to fund the program and requires annual reporting of reading results and program expenditures to the legislature. 


HB 1238

If a student in third grade cannot demonstrate a level of competency in reading skills their teacher (and other personnel of the local education provider) is required to meet with the student’s parents or guardians and decide whether the student should advance to the next grade level “based on whether the student, despite having a significant reading deficiency, is able to maintain adequate academic progress at the next grade level.”

In the 2012-2013 school year, teachers are required to report annually any students who are identified as having a significant reading deficiency. In the 2013-2014 school year the teacher shall make a personalized READ plan, and meet with the student’s parent to help make the aforementioned  plan.  However, if the parents cannot be met with the local educational provider may create the READ plan alone and then must inform the parents of its contents. In addition, the local education provider shall hold back a student except if the student has a disability, limited English proficiency, or is completing the second school year at the same grade level.

Each READ plan shall include, among other things: the student’s specific diagnosed reading skill deficiencies, and the local education provider monitoring and evaluating the goals and benchmarks for the student’s growth in attention. If the student moves to a different school, his/her new teacher is in charge of continuing to work on their individualized  READ plan.


SB 2284

Formerly SSB 3171, the bill refers to student retention in grades kindergarten through third based on reading or reading readiness as determined by statewide assessments. Parents or guardians must be notified in writing of their student’s reading deficiency, what plan of action the school is taking and strategies they may use to help their child.

Beginning May 1, 2017 if a student’s reading deficiency is not remedied by the end of grade three the school district shall notify the parent or guardian that the student may enroll in an “intensive summer reading program” offered by the school. If the student is not enrolled, they will be ineligible for the good cause exemption and shall be retained in grade three.  However, a decision to retain a student in grade three shall be made only after direct personal consultation with the student’s parent or guardian and after the formulation of a specific plan of action to remedy the student’s reading deficiency.

Lists examples of  intensive reading instruction for remediation as well as good cause exemptions.


HB 4125

Establishes an Early Literacy Expert Panel to advise state education agencies and the Executive Office of Education on the implementation of  early literacy development plans, including, but not limited to, the Massachusetts Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy Plan, the Early Learning Challenge Plan and Race to the Top, including the activities and programs offered by the District and School Assistance Centers and Readiness Centers to support language and literacy acquisition for children from birth to third grade. 


HB 4243

Provides for an early literacy expert panel to develop recommendations to have all students in the commonwealth reading proficiently by the end of third grade, promotes children’s language and literacy development in early education and care programs and grades pre-kindergarten to third grade, inclusive including tiered instructional strategies and materials, provides professional development and training. 


SB 316

Requires third grade retention. Clarifies the definition of students who are exempt or considered special cases from retention.


HB 1181

Requires local school divisions to provide reading intervention services to students in grade three who demonstrate deficiencies based on their individual performance on the Standards of Learning reading test or any reading diagnostic test that meets criteria established by the Department of Education. The local school division, at its discretion, shall  provide such intervention before promotion to grade four.


SB 461

Establishes the Read to Lead Development Council and governor’s read to lead development fund both of which focus on getting kids to read before third grade.



SB 346

Relates to the Reading Sufficiency Act, provides that if the reading deficiency of a student, as identified based on specified assessments, is not remedied by the end of a specified grade, the student shall be retained in that grade, provides that when a student does not meet academic requirements for promotion that student may be promoted for good cause only, requires school districts to review reading instruction programs and to establish a specified initiative.


SB 1776

Beginning with the 2011-2012 school year, a student in the third grade may not be promoted to the next grade level unless the student has shown a basic understanding of curriculum and ability to perform the skills required in the subject of reading as demonstrated by the student's grades or standardized test results. Such student may be promoted if the student participates in an LEA approved research-based intervention prior to the beginning of the next school year; act does not apply to any student who has an IEP pursuant to the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. - Amends TCA Title 49.



HB 2732

Relates to third grade retention because of below-grade reading scores. Intervention and remedial strategies developed by the state board of education include: switching the student to a different teacher for reading instruction; summer school reading instruction; in the next academic year intensive reading instruction that occurs before, during or after the regular school day; and online reading instruction.  

School districts are required to universally screen students in preschool through grade three to identify pupils who have reading deficiencies.

Beginning in the 2010-2011 school year, school districts and charter schools shall provide annual written notification to parents of pupils in kindergarten programs through third grade “that a student who obtains a score on the reading portion of

the Arizona instrument to measure standards test that demonstrates the pupil is

reading far below the third grade level will not be promoted from the third grade.  The school district or charter school shall provide to the parent of that pupil a separate written notification of the reading deficiency” that includes: a description of the current reading services provided to the pupil; a description of available supplemental instructional services; parental strategies to help the student attain reading proficiency; and a statement that the pupil will not be promoted from the third grade if they obtain a score on that demonstrates the pupil is reading far below the third grade level unless the pupil qualifies for a good cause exemption. 

Lists good cause exemptions.


HB 1367



Relates to third grade retention and parental involvement. The state superintendent in conjunction with the state board must come up with a plan that  improves reading skills of students and implement appropriate remediation techniques for students.

The plan must include a method for making determinant evaluations by grade three that might require remedial action for the student, including retention as a last resort, after other methods of remediation have been evaluated or used, or both, if reading skills are below the standard. Appropriate consultation with parents or guardians must be part of the plan.


SB 150

Requires that students in first, second and third grades read at or above grade level prior to advancing to the next grade, with certain exceptions, prohibits a school district from promoting a student in those grades to the next grade level if the child is not reading at or above grade level, provides certain student exemptions, requires school districts or charter schools to provide parental notice and reading intervention, requires the State Board of Education to make rules and a report.



SB 20E

Requires 3rd-grade students to attain a score of level 2 (of 5) on the Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test (FCAT) before being promoted to 4th grade.

Sets requirements for early identification and intervention for struggling readers in kindergarten to 3rd grade. Once a student’s difficulties are identified, schools are required to develop academic improvement plans that describe the specific areas of reading deficiency, desired levels of performance in these areas and necessary support services. Next, schools are required to detail for parents of struggling readers the steps they are taking to help the student, what intervention is proposed and the consequences of continued poor performance (3rd-grade retention). If students are retained, requires that they must be provided with an intensive program that is different from the previous year’s program and that takes into account the student’s individual learning style.

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