By Brityn Calloway, February 8, 2017
KPC NEWS – The third grade marks a pivotal time in a child’s life when it comes to reading and their chances of achieving educational and career success well into the future.
Those 8- and 9-year-olds may not recognize it, but education experts do.
“They go from reading, ‘See Spot go,’ to reading about geography and science,” said Judy Sorg, director of Learning Link DeKalb County.
The third grade often is when children make the leap from learning how to speak and write to using those newfound language skills to have a deeper understanding of subjects such as math, history and science.
The U.S. Department of Education categorizes children by the third grade, based on their reading proficiency. Educators and researchers use literacy test scores to determine the likelihood that a child will graduate high school.
According to data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, approximately 16 percent of children who are found to lack third-grade reading proficiency do not graduate high school, a number four times greater than proficient readers.
The Education Department says that to be a proficient reader, students must be able to understand the reading process; be able to gain background information on the topic they are reading about; apply that background knowledge to help their understanding of the material; read in a comprehensive manner; be able to handle themselves instances in which they don’t understand part of the material; and retain the information once the material is done.
The list is extensive, but it is something that literate adults do every day. They read articles, books and even posts on Facebook, and do so in a comprehensive manner, which then allows them to respond to the material.
According to Learning Link, a program of the Community Foundation of DeKalb County, only 66 percent of third-graders and 56 percent of second-graders in DeKalb County were labeled as proficient in 2016, based on their performance on the Northwest Evaluation Association assessment.
That’s cause for concern and celebration. “Numbers are going up each year,” Sorg said.
Across northeast Indiana, 88 percent of third-graders passed the IREAD-3 assessment during the 2014-2015 school year, according to data compiled for the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership’s Big Goal 2016 Snapshot report. The partnership covers an 11-county area, which includes DeKalb, LaGrange, Noble and Steuben.
Parents play a key role in child’s reading proficiency and literacy. A fact sheet citing Education Department data prepared by the National Education Association states: “Where parent involvement is low, the classroom mean average (reading score) is 46 points below the national average. Where involvement is high, classrooms score 28 points above the national average — a gap of 74 points.”
“When parents have the knowledge and want to pass on their knowledge to their child, their child will be more literate,” Sorg said.
Practice helps, too. The more a child reads at home or has a parent read to him or her, the greater the likelihood the child will be proficient in his or her schoolwork. Sorg suggests just 15 minutes of reading a day will help children’s comprehension.
Children who fall behind in reading while they’re young often continue to struggle academically. According to the Indiana Business Research Center, the percentages of adults 18 and older in the four-county area who don’t have a diploma or high school equivalency are: DeKalb, 12.1 percent; LaGrange, 40.1 percent; Noble, 16.7 percent; and Steuben, 11 percent.
In all, that’s about 22,600 people.
Impact Institute, based in Kendallville, offers high school equivalency courses for adults in DeKalb, LaGrange, Noble, Steuben and Whitley counties. The organization tries to make the courses, which are free, as convenient as possible to attend.
“Our goal is to bring our classes to the people who can’t necessarily travel to them,” said Caroline Foster, assistant director for adult education at Impact Institute. “So you will see that counties that don’t have a literacy coalition, their classes will be at public libraries and schools.”
Earning a high school equivalency diploma can help offset the challenges created when a child falls behind in reading at an early age. It also makes a person more desirable to potential employers.
“College isn’t for everyone,” Foster said. “I’m not saying that people shouldn’t go to college, but there are a lot of jobs that call for adult learning and not college degrees.”