When kids can’t read, they sit in our classrooms disengaged, disinterested, and sometimes defiant. They know they can’t read and may feel embarrassed, angry and frustrated.
Third grade is when children are expected to make the transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.” Studies show that children who are successful by third grade are less likely to drop out of high school and more likely to go on to higher education. But, seventy-four percent of children who are not reading on grade level at the end of third grade will never catch up to graduate with their class. Struggles in third grade lead to the “fourth-grade slump,” as the reading-to-learn model comes to dominate instruction. While their more skilled classmates are amassing knowledge and learning new words from context, poor readers may begin to avoid reading out of frustration.
A vicious cycle sets in: school assignments increasingly require background knowledge and familiarity with “book words” (literary, abstract and technical terms)— competencies that are themselves acquired through reading. Meanwhile, classes in science, social studies, history and even math come to rely more and more on textual analysis, so that struggling readers begin to fall behind in these subjects as well.
High school failure costs taxpayers between $320 and $350 billion a year in lost wages, taxable income, healthcare, welfare and incarceration costs, among others.