Read Better Be Better Partners With Middle Schoolers to Elevate Third Grade Reading Skills

Phoenix, AZ | Submitted by Sophie Etchart

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A child’s reading ability by the end of third grade is a key predictor of their future academic success. In fact, research shows that a child’s third grade reading level is directly correlated with how well that student performs in ninth grade, the likelihood they will graduate high school, and whether they will go on to attend college.

According to 2017-18 AzMERIT results, 44 percent of Arizona’s third graders score proficient or highly proficient in third grade reading. Even more significant gaps exist among minority, low-income, and at-risk populations. The Arizona Education Progress Meter goal is to improve this rate to 72 percent by 2030. Schools and community leaders will have to focus on alleviating our achievement gap to set students on a path to future success.

Reading is the foundational skill for all school-based learning and third grade is the pivotal time to master reading. Read Better Be Better (RBBB) has constructed a unique program for boosting third grade reading comprehension. Surveys suggest that educators do not have time to adequately address comprehension though they recognize that it is a critical skill, so RBBB supplements classroom instruction in an afterschool program. RBBB employs an evidence-based curriculum to help ensure student success in subsequent grades.

RBBB partners with school districts to mobilize middle school volunteers to implement the curriculum one-on-one with struggling third graders. The group seeks out middle schoolers who aren’t the typical volunteer. Some have been recommended by school officials who see potential for growth but also the potential for problems if these students aren’t given some direction. The program encourages them to be a positive influence and shows them the importance of learning. Students must apply for the job and be selected, which is simple but, to a disengaged middle school youth, a strong indication that they should take their role seriously.

Third graders are chosen because they’re at risk of being kept behind but aren’t receiving more robust interventions. A few of the children have behavioral challenges, and some are ELL students. In the most recent school year alone, they’ve engaged nearly 300 youth seven Phoenix-area school districts.

Sessions are facilitated by university students in the college of education. RBBB works in partnership with Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College to offer meaningful experience to ASU students. In addition to providing guidance to the third graders, the interaction gives these college students unparalleled exposure to classroom management, curriculum development, and the social and emotional struggles of many children. It helps students prepare for their coming education career, bolstering future teachers in a state struggling with a teacher shortage.

The program is still relatively new, but it’s already showing great success. Four out of five youth agree or strongly agree that they understand what they read better than they could before. And it’s showing – RBBB students are outperforming their peers by 34 percent on the DAZE reading comprehension test. Participants have read more than 4,000 books in the last year and attendance is over 80 percent.

Based on what teachers have to say, all of the participants have improved comprehension and concentration after only one semester. And parents agree – 96 percent say their child has improved at understanding what they read and 75 percent say their child is spending more time reading than they did before.

Even more exciting, the middle school volunteers are using the learning comprehension strategies with younger siblings in their home. These older students are growing their own reading skills, while also increasing a sense of social responsibility and impact. RBBB significantly impacts third graders, middle schoolers, and future teachers.

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