Take a guess: What is the single most important year of an individual’s academic career? The answer isn’t junior year of high school, or senior year of college. It’s third grade.
What makes success in third grade so significant? It’s the year that students move from learning to read — decoding words using their knowledge of the alphabet — to reading to learn. The books children are expected to master are no longer simple primers but fact-filled texts on the solar system, Native Americans, the Civil War. Children who haven’t made the leap to fast, fluent reading begin at this moment to fall behind, and for most of them the gap will continue to grow. So third grade constitutes a critical transition — a “pivot point,” in the words of Donald J. Hernandez, a professor of sociology at CUNY–Hunter College. A study Hernandez conducted, released last year by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, found that third-graders who lack proficiency in reading are four times more likely to become high school dropouts.