Third grade is often not recognized for what it really is: the pivot year for elementary school students. Students will progress from learning skills to mastering and applying those skills during this year. And, newly acquired ones will become more complex. Students will begin to make connections with real-life applications.
I was a middle school math teacher and admissions administrator of a private elementary school and often heard parents speak about the importance of kindergarten as the launch pad of learning for their little ones. They were right. Parents, likewise, expressed to me their awareness that fifth grade stepped up in academic intensity – the preparatory year for middle school. Again, correct.
Third grade, however, seems to fall into the “middle-child syndrome”suggesting a place of lesser importance, an indistinguishable grade between kindergarten and fifth grade.
The focus rightly needs to shift to the critical importance of third grade. Fundamental support skills learned in kindergarten through 2nd grade are being applied for the first time in third grade. Assignments now are more complicated, thinking more critical and analytical. Students are no longer learning to read, they are “reading to learn” in third grade. Reading literacy is important because it underscores all subjects, including math, a subject becoming more abstract.
The Magazine, Education Week, 10/16/18, cites research that “a student who can’t read on grade level by 3rd grade is four times less likely to graduate by age 19 than a child who does read proficiently by that time”. Reading literacy and reading comprehension are necessary to learn and progress in other subjects as well: mathematics, social studies, and science. As a result, children who are not reading at the third grade reading level will begin to fall behind academically.
The gap will, unfortunately, continue to widen as the child progresses through elementary school, middle school, and finally high school. Then, a vicious cycle sets in: school assignments become increasingly more complex and dependent on reading comprehension and synthesizing information – skills acquired through reading. Because classes in language arts, social studies, math, and science come to rely more and more on textual analysis, struggling readers begin to fall behind in these subjects as well.
Not infrequently parents think that if their child is performing below grade level and struggling in the elementary grades that there is still plenty of time to intervene. After all, high school is years away and college even farther. Not so. If your child is struggling, especially in third grade, be sure that your child immediately receives the necessary academic support and intervention. It only becomes more difficult to remediate in later years than to have started early.
Third grade is the crucial year in your child’s learning process and needs to be embraced as such. Support your child’s control over his or her learning by assuring that adequate reading and literacy skills are in place. Doing so lays the foundation for academic and overall future success, confidence and self-esteem. Work with your child’s teacher and school. If necessary, consult with an independent tutor. Last, if results are not forthcoming, question whether the school is the right fit for your child.