From Kindergarten through third grade, students learn how to read. In fourth grade students shift to reading to learn by applying the reading skills they acquired in grades K-3 to understand other subjects in school, such as science and history.

Data show that students who are not able to read proficiently by the end of third grade struggle in later grades and are four times more likely to dropout.  The outcomes are markedly worse for children living in poverty: these students are almost nine times more likely to drop out from high school if they don’t master reading by third grade.

To ensure that all Arizona students have the opportunity to build a strong foundation in reading, a bill was passed in 2010 called Move on When Reading. The law will require that students who score “Falls Far Below” on the AIMS reading test to be held back in the third grade to have additional time to master their reading skills beginning in the 2013-2014 school year.  Arizona is one of 14 states that has implemented a third grade reading retention law to date.

What’s the Impact to Children in Arizona?

If we use the most recent 2012 third grade AIMS data as an indicator of what might occur in the 2013-2014 school year, it shows that more than 3,300 students may be held back for failing the AIMS reading test.  If we look back over the past three years, we see the number of students that score “Falls Far Below” on the assessment decreasing from 4,800 in 2010.  This is a positive trend, however, more than 3,000 students being potentially held back is far too many.

What’s more, more than 17,500 (21%) third grade students in Arizona are scoring between “Falls Far Below” and “Meets,” which means that they are not failing, but aren’t yet proficient.  These students may proceed to the 4th grade, but may still struggle with reading.

AIMS 3rd Grade Reading Scores

Falls Far Below
% – # of Students
% – # of Students
Percent Passing
(Meets and Exceeds)
2012 4% – 3,345 21% – 17,561 75%
2011 5% – 4,099 19% – 15,578 76%
2010 6% – 4,816 21% – 17,561 73%

As a state, we must redouble our efforts to ensure that all students are reading proficiently by third grade. This will take the commitment of state leaders, teachers, administrators, parents, and communities working together to fund early child education programs – where the foundation for reading and literacy begins, implement interventions for struggling students,  provide high quality professional development for teachers, and encourage parent engagement and support.

This year, the legislature approved $40 million to help children in grades K-3 improve their reading ability.  This is a step in the right direction, however, a longer term commitment and additional funding are needed to ensure that all of our children can be successful in reading by third grade.

Sources: Anne E. Casey Foundation, Arizona Department of Education AIMS Assessment ResultsArizona Capitol Times, and Education Commission of the States.