Maximizing return on 3rd grade reading initiatives

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The push for making sure third-graders are proficient in reading has taken hold in increasingly more states, as policymakers have latched on to findings that students who are proficient readers by 3rd grade have significantly better chances of later academic success. A new survey of state legislation from the Education Commission of the States gives an account of the states  now requiring identification of, and often interventions for, struggling readers to boost them to proficiency before they advance to Grade 4.

But there's a critical foundational piece that's too often missing from these 3rd grade reading initiatives: making sure that teachers know how to teach reading in the first place.

While half of states "require" their teacher training programs to teach prospective teachers the science of reading instruction, we've seen in study after study that these requirements end up being meaningless if they aren't backed up by a solid reading test that new teachers have to take for licensure. For example, Texas has some of the best reading regulations in the country, yet we know that only 23 percent of programs in that state are paying any attention to them, which is only slightly better than program adherence in states without such regs. 

Of the 10 states that currently sufficiently test new teachers' reading knowledge (there are a lot of inadequate tests out there), are states that are also adopting 3rd grade reading proficiency regs. That leaves another 26 states that have hopped on the 3rd grade reading bandwagon without coupling their efforts with addressing deficiencies at the teacher prep level.  Unless they do so, the payoff they're hoping for is likely to remain elusive.

*Sources: Education Commission of the States,"Third Grade Reading Policies," Stephanie Rose, August 2012; National Council on Teacher Quality 2011 State Teacher Policy Yearbook.