Reading on Grade Level in Third Grade: How Is It Related to High School Performance and College Enrollment?
Without question, learning to read is a necessity in our increasingly literate society. For children, it is also a critical skill for success in school. In this study, researchers examine whether third-grade reading level can be used as an indicator of potential performance on four future educational outcome measures: eighth-grade reading level, ninth-grade course performance, high school graduation, and college attendance. We use administrative data from the Chicago Public Schools to follow one focus cohort of nearly 26,000 students from third grade through high school completion and into college in order to analyze the effect of reading ability on future achievement. In these analyses, we also identified those students who spent time in foster care at any point during their childhood. Previous research at Chapin Hall has shown that students involved with the child welfare system read at levels below their peers and have slower improvement over time.
Findings from this study are consistent with existing literature that emphasizes the importance of early reading ability for future educational success. Third-grade reading level was shown to be significant predictor of eighth-grade reading level and ninth-grade course performance even after accounting for demographic characteristics and how a child’s school influences their individual performance. Third-grade reading level was also shown to be a predictor of graduation and college attendance, even when demographic characteristics were included as controls. However, results also indicate that the effect of third-grade reading level operates through eighth- and ninth-grade performance. Whether or not a student was ever in foster care had a small but significantly negative impact on eighth-grade reading level, ninth-grade course performance, and high school graduation. Even after considering background characteristics, poverty level, prior achievement and school effects, students who ever spent time in foster care—regardless of timing of entry, duration in care, or any other specification of that experience—have lower educational outcomes than their peers.