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Impact of the Pandemic

The pandemic created unprecedented challenges for schools, educators, families, and students. In 2022, we received our second year of pandemic-era state reading scores, showing just 25% of third graders in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools scoring at College and Career Ready (CCR). There is much work ahead for our community to build back toward its goal of 80% of third graders reading at the CCR level.

Note: The State of North Carolina implemented new academic achievement standards for Grades 3-8 reading assessments starting in the 2020 – 2021 school year. This means the reading scores before 2021 are not directly comparable with scores in 2021 and 2022. 

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Read Charlotte believes our community’s goal is within reach. In fact, we’ve come closer to that goal than many might realize.

In 2017, 70% of CMS students were on level for reading at the end of first grade on a nationally normed, formative reading assessment. Two years later, though, in 2019, only 46% of those students scored at CCR on their third-grade state reading assessment.

There are two key takeaways from these data points:


Getting 80% of third graders to CCR is both attainable and closer than we might think.


The post-first grade drop in reading scores is an important piece of the puzzle of improving reading proficiency. It’s clear that the end of first grade is a key leverage point in the early literacy journey. But there’s more to do to reach full reading proficiency by third grade.

We also know school entry is an important leverage point. Harvard Professor James Kim analyzed two cohorts of CMS students from kindergarten through third grade. These analyses were for students who finished third grade in 2018 and 2019.

Using MAP test scores, Professor Kim found that the entire third grade reading gap (by race and income) was present by the end of kindergarten. We need to work hard to close early gaps at school entry and the initial years of elementary school.

All of this informs the work ahead and shows where we, as a community, can lean in to help move toward our goal.

New Research Reveals Four Ingredients Critical to
Reaching Goal

A 10-year initiative called Reading for Understanding identified oral language, listening comprehension, world knowledge, and decoding/word recognition as key ingredients for reading comprehension.

Once a child learns to decode words, low language skills and gaps in world knowledge (especially science and social studies) impede further progress in reading comprehension. In fact, listening comprehension becomes the leading predictor of reading comprehension.

Development of oral language, listening comprehension, and world knowledge begins early in life, well before children start school. This points to the importance of building early literacy skills starting at birth.

This interplay between word reading skills and language skills can be seen in CMS data for incoming Black third graders in fall 2022.
Additional Research: Three Core Models

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