The facts are clear: Students who cannot read well by third grade are more likely to drop out of high school, and students in poverty are at even greater risk. Conversely, students who graduate from high school are twice as likely to be employed and able to more fully contribute to the community.
Being able to read by third grade is crucial: math tests have word problems, fiction and nonfiction books become topics for class discussions, and written essays are common homework assignments. Experts refer to this as the switch from “learning to read to reading to learn.” If children cannot read by grade three, they cannot get the most out of their educations, ultimately limiting their potential.
In crowded schools everywhere, the struggles of younger children often go unnoticed until later in their education, when their challenges are harder to fix. Accountability testing in most schools does not start until third grade. When you add in the effects of poverty, reading performance often gets even worse.
This problem starts on day one. Here in Austin, one in four children live in poverty – and cost-of-living studies show that is a low estimate. As a result, less than half of our children are ready to learn on their first day of kindergarten.
Therefore, Literacy First targets elementary schools where most students are disadvantaged, and where the student demographics match Austin. We work with kindergarten through second grade children with low reading scores and get them up to grade level. We make sure they maintain their gains after they graduate from our program.