The Read Charlotte team scoured the research to identify critical skills and behaviors associated with children who read proficiently by the end of third grade. Rather than focusing on what gets in the way of reading proficiency, we asked what all children who become successful readers experience from birth through third grade. The findings from this body of research guided the development of our community indicators and our search for evidence-based practices and programs.

Language Development (Expressive Language and Language Comprehension)

All communication has two aspects: what we say to others (expressive language) and what we hear and understand (receptive language or language comprehension). Good oral language development, both expressive and language comprehension, is a good predictor of later ability to read and write well (Dickinson et al., 2010; NICHD Early Child Care Research Network, 2005). A child’s vocabulary, which begins developing at birth, at age four is predictive of third grade reading comprehension ability (National Reading Panel, 2000).

Letter Knowledge

Letter knowledge is knowing that letters have names and are related to sounds. It is also the knowledge that the same letter can look different (i.e. upper and lower case). Knowledge of the alphabet letters is a strong predictor of short- and long-term reading success (Bond & Dykstra, 1967; Chall, Jacobs, & Baldwin, 1990). According to the National Reading Panel, children’s knowledge of letters is one of the two best predictors (the other is phonemic awareness) of how well they will learn to read in Kindergarten and first grade (National Reading Panel, 2000).

Approaches to Learning

Approaches to learning is the foundation that affects how children learn in every other content area. It encompasses children’s engagement, motivation, and participation in the classroom. Children who frequently demonstrate behaviors associated with a positive approach to learning as they enter Kindergarten are more likely to understand the letter-sound relationship at the beginning and ending of words as they are completing Kindergarten, and are more likely to master sight words and words in context as they are completing first grade (Denton & West, 2002). Conversely, children with poor approaches to learning behaviors at the start of Kindergarten score lower in reading at the end of Kindergarten and beginning of first grade (U.S. Department of Education,2015).

Phonemic Awareness

The English alphabet has 26 letters that are used individually and in various combinations to produce 44 different speech sounds (phonemes). Phonemic awareness involves mastery of these individual sounds and understanding of the various ways that letters can be combined to produce them. The degree of phonemic awareness that a child has developed upon entry into school is widely held to be the strongest single determinant of the child’s reading success (Adams, 1990; Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998; Stanovich, 1986).

Phonics and Decoding

Phonics is the understanding that there is a predictable relationship between the sounds of spoken language, and the letters and spellings that represent those sounds in written language. Phonics instruction helps children learn the relationships between the letters of written language and the sounds of spoken language. Children are taught, for example, that the letter n represents the sound /n/, and that it is the first letter in words such as nose, nice and new. Successful decoding occurs when a student uses his or her knowledge of letter-sound relationships to read a word accurately. Most poor readers have weak phonics skills. Emergent and less skilled readers rely more heavily on context clues to comprehend what they are reading (Stanovich, 1980). This is partly due to their inability to use sound-spelling relationships (phonics) to decode words. Stronger readers don’t need to rely on context clues because they can quickly and accurately decode words by sounding them out. This also allows them to learn new vocabulary more easily than students with weak phonic skills. Phonics knowledge positively improves students decoding ability (Ehri, 2003; Stuebing et al., 2008). Early attainment of decoding skill predicts later skill in reading comprehension (Beck & Juel, 1995).

Reading Level

Reading on grade level means the student has mastered the skills that s/he needs to read and understand words and sentences in books at the expected level of difficulty. That could mean reading simple words (cat, hat, hop) in kindergarten, or understanding complex words (aggravating, swiped, exclaimed)in third grade. Reading level at the end of each academic year indicates the level of progress children are making toward reading on grade level by the end of third grade. Of particular importance is a child’s reading level at the end of first grade as it is highly predictive of third grade reading proficiency. If a child is not reading on grade level by the end of first grade, he or she has only about a 10 percent chance of reading on grade level by the end of fourth grade (Cunningham & Stanovich, 1997; Francis, Shaywitz, Stuebing, Shaywitz,& Fletcher, 1996; Juel, 1988; Lyon, 2001; Shaywitz et al., 1999).

School Attendance

Chronic absence is a measure of how much school a student misses for any reason. It isa broader measure than truancy, which only tracks unexcused absences. Chronic absenteeism is defined as missing 10 percent or more of school days for any reason. Starting in the early grades, chronic absence levels can reach remarkably high levels. Nationally, ten percent of kindergarten and first grade students are chronically absent from school, missing two or more days a month (10%+ of school days). In some low-income schools, chronic absence in these grades is as high as 25%. School attendance in the first two years of schools has a strong effect on third grade reading. Just under half (48%) of third graders who missed more than nine days both in kindergarten and first grade read on grade level. Only 17% of third graders who missed 18 or more days in both kindergarten and first grade are proficient readers (Bruner et al., 2011). The negative impact of chronic absenteeism is 75% greater for a low-income student in kindergarten than for more affluent peers and 40 percent greater in first grade (Ready, 2010). This issue also affects preschool children and there is evidence that suggests a link between preschool elementary school attendance (Ehrlich et al., 2014).

Research Citations

Adams, M. J., B. R. Foorman, I. Lundberg, and T. Beeler. (1998). Phonemic Awareness in Young Children: A Classroom Curriculum. Paul Brookes Publishing Co., Baltimore, MD.

Adams, M.J. (1990). Beginning to read: Thinking and learning about print. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Beck, I. and Juel, C. (1995). The role of decoding in learning to read. American Educator, 19:10-20.

Bond, G., & Dykstra, R. (1967). The cooperative research program in first-grade reading instruction. Reading Research Quarterly, 2:5-142.

Bruner, Charles, Anne Discher and Hedy Chang. Chronic Elementary Absenteeism: A Problem Hidden in Plain Sight. Child and Family Policy Center and Attendance Works, November 2011.

Chall, J., Jacobs, V. & Baldwin, L. (1990). The reading crisis: Why poor children fall behind. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Cunningham, A. E. and Stanovich, K.E., Early Reading Acquisition and Its Relation to Reading Experience and Ability 10 Years Later. Developmental Psychology, 33:934-945.

Denton, K., and West, J. (2002). Children’s Reading and Mathematics Achievement in Kindergarten and First Grade (NCES 2002–125). U.S. Department of Education, NCES. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Dickinson, David, et al. (2010). Speaking Out for Language: Why Language Is Central to Reading Development. Educational Researcher, 39:305–310.

Ehri, L. (2003). Systematic Phonics Instruction: Findings of the National Reading Panel. Paper presented at the invitational seminar organized by the Standards and Effectiveness Unit, Department for Education and Skills, British Government (London, England, March 17, 2003).

Ehrlich, S.B., Gwynne, J.A., Stitziel Pareja, A., Allensworth, E.M., Moore, P., Jagesic, S. and Sorice, E., 2014. Preschool Attendance in Chicago Public Schools: Relationships with Learning Outcomes and Reasons for Absences. University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research.

Francis, D. J., Shaywitz, S. E., Stuebing, K. K., Shaywitz, B. A., and Fletcher, J. M. (1996). Developmental lag versus deficit models of reading disability: A longitudinal, individual growth curves analysis. Journal of Educational Psychology, 88:3-17.

Juel, C. (1988). Learning to read and write: A longitudinal study of 54 children from first to fourth grades. Journal of Educational Psychology, 80:437-447.

Lyon, G. R., Fletcher, J. M., Shaywitz, S. E., Shaywitz, B. A., Torgesen, J. K., Wood, F. B., Schulte, A., and Olson, R. (2001). Rethinking learning disabilities. In Finn, C. E., Rotherham, A. J., and Hokanson, C. R. (Eds.), Rethinking Special Education For a New Century, Washington, D.C.: Progressive Policy Institute and Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.

National Reading Panel (US), National Institute of Child Health, & Human Development (US). (2000). Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health.

NICHD Early Child Care Research Network. (2005). Pathways to Reading: The Role of Oral Language in the Transition to Reading. Developmental Psychology, 41:428-442.

Ready, Douglas D. (2010). Socioeconomic Disadvantage, School Attendance, and Early Cognitive Development, The Differential Effects of School Exposure, Sociology of Education, 83:271-286.

Shaywitz, S. E., Fletcher, J. M., Holahan, J. M., Schneider, A. E., Marchione, K. E., Stuebing, K. K., Francis, D. J., Pugh, K. R., and Shaywitz, B. A. (1999). Persistence of dyslexia: The Connecticut longitudinal study at adolescence. Pediatrics, 104:1351-1359.

Snow, C.E., Burns, M.S., & Griffin, P. (1998). Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children. National Academy Press: Washington, DC.

Stanovich, K. (1980). Toward An Interactive-Compensatory Model of Individual Differences in the Development of Reading Fluency. Reading Research Quarterly, 16:32-71.

Stanovich, K.E. (1986). Matthew effects in reading: Some consequences of individual differences in the acquisition of literacy. Reading Research Quarterly, 22:360-407.

Stuebing, Karla K.; Barth, Amy E.; Cirino, Paul T.; Francis, David J.; Fletcher, Jack M. (2008). A response to recent reanalyses of the National Reading Panel report: Effects of systematic phonics instruction are practically significant. Journal of Educational Psychology, 100:123-134.

 U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2015). The Condition of Education 2015, NCES 2015-144, by Kena, G., Musu-Gillette, L., Robinson, J., Wang, X., Rathbun, A., Zhang, J., Wilkinson-Flicker, S., Barmer, A., and Dunlop Velez, E. Washington, DC.