Community Involvement 101: The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading

Community Involvement 101: The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading

Research shows that one of the most important predictors of school success and high school graduation occurs early in a student’s life: A 2013 research update from the Annie E. Casey Foundation confirmed that reading proficiency by the end of third grade is critical to a student’s future academic success. Since much of the curriculum in fourth grade and beyond requires reading and analyzing text, students must be proficient readers in order to succeed in their classwork. Simply put, by the end of third grade, students must make the shift from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.”

Unfortunately, research also shows that many students are failing to meet this critical benchmark. According to 2017 NAEP scores, 66 percent of fourth-graders are not reading at a proficient level. Even more concerningly, this statistic rises to 80 percent for lower-income fourth-graders.

The implications of these troubling findings are long-reaching. As asserted by the foundation’s 2010 report, Early Warning! Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters, “Every student who does not complete high school costs our society an estimated $260,000 in lost earnings, taxes, and productivity.” As a country, we have an active interest in ensuring that students learn the skills they need to succeed in school and beyond. By identifying third-grade reading proficiency as a critical milestone in a student’s education, we have also determined that this is a time when students—particularly low-income students—need our support.

This is where initiatives such as The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading come into play. The campaign—which was built on the belief that communities can rise up and work in cooperation with schools and parents to promote early literacy—involves foundations, nonprofit partners, government agencies, and businesses joining together to help students succeed. Nationwide, more than 300 communities are currently participating in the Grade-Level Reading (GLR) Network, deploying a variety of strategies to help students reach reading proficiency by the end of third grade. Read on to learn more, including how you can join in the effort.


Why is community involvement so important?

The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading recognizes that many of the barriers to achieving reading proficiency by third grade depend on engagement from the outside community. Although schools and parents do the majority of the work in teaching reading skills and measuring progress, there are many other factors affecting reading readiness that can be addressed through a caring neighborhood network.

For example, the community can lend a hand with regard to chronic absenteeism and poor health—two issues that can impact a student’s availability to learn. For instance, if a student is chronically late or absent from school due to a lack of transportation, community partners could work with schools to help provide a solution. Similarly, a student who is frequently ill may not be able to afford healthy food or medicine, which is an area in which businesses, nonprofits, and other local agencies can help. As schools and families have many concerns to address, adding support from the community relieves some of the financial and emotional toll.


What does the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading do?

The campaign is a collaborative effort that allows public, private, and philanthropic organizations to communicate, coordinate, and maximize resources for our students. Indeed, the campaign's website includes the following statement: “Although schools must be accountable for helping all children achieve, providing effective teaching for all children in every classroom every day, the Campaign is based on the belief that schools cannot succeed alone. Engaged communities mobilized to remove barriers, expand opportunities, and assist parents in fulfilling their roles and responsibilities to serve as full partners in the success of their children are needed to assure student success.”


Community solutions

Current research—including the studies done by the Annie E. Casey Foundation—has identified several barriers to reading proficiency that disproportionately affect low-income students. The Campaign helps communities address critical risk factors like these with a range of community solutions, including the following: 

  • The readiness gap
    Research shows that students from low-income backgrounds have fewer literacy-building opportunities than their peers before they even enter kindergarten. Thus, high-quality childcare, literacy-rich environments, and preschool programs are all community-based solutions that help narrow the readiness gap.

  • The attendance gap
    In the early grades, instruction on basic literacy and reading skills comprises much of the curriculum. However, one-tenth of kindergarten and first-grade students miss school so often that their absences add up to almost a full month. Prioritizing school attendance is another area in which local businesses can get involved by offering simple incentives, such as free ice cream coupons for those with good school attendance, as a way to show students that the community is invested in their future, too.

  • The summer slide
    While their middle- and upper-income peers may have access to enrichment activities over the summer, lower-income students can lose as much as three months of reading instruction simply through lack of practice during the summer. Community partners that offer free or low-cost summer programs and scholarships can help low-income students avoid the so-called “summer slide.”

Core strategies

As community members and education stakeholders work together for their local students, the Campaign puts forth a set of best-practice strategies to guide its collaborative efforts, using these three core strategies to support student reading:

  • Parent engagement
    Even as we emphasize grade-level reading as a community effort, we recognize that students’ primary relationships are with their parents. By respecting parents as their children’s first and most influential teachers and encouraging their engagement, communities can make a real difference for young students. Hosting child-friendly functions, promoting parent education nights, and making policies that allow more flexibility for working parents are all ways that community partners can support parent engagement.

  • Healthy readers
    Young children are holistic learners, using every part of their bodies and their senses to discover the world around them. Thus, it stands to reason that supporting good health in every aspect of development—physical, social and emotional, cognitive, and communicative—supports successful school performance, too, and community partners are in a position to identify and meet children’s health needs even before they reach school age. Consider organizing playgroups to increase social health, offering free clinics to support physical health, and hosting hands-on workshops that encourage cognitive and language development.

  • State-level outreach
    The Campaign for Grade Level Reading recognizes that countless child and family advocates are already hard at work making policies and encouraging practices that support healthy development from birth through third grade. The Campaign works with these advocates—including Kids Count, Voices For Children, and State Early Childhood Advisory Councils—to coordinate these public, private, and philanthropic efforts.

How can I get involved?

Is your community part of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading? Check this map of participating communities across the U.S. to find out! Once you find your community, get in touch with your local contact or create an account to join the GLR Huddle. If your city, town, or county is interested in joining the network, the Campaign spells out the steps here. You’ll need to organize a letter of intent, convene a cross-sector, obtain a sponsoring coalition, and develop a Community Solution Actions Plan.

However you join the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading network, you’ll find the resources and support you need to make a difference for students in your community. Proficient reading by the end of third grade is an important predictor for academic success and high school graduation, and by working together to remove the barriers that so often affect students in low-income families, we can build a better future for our students and our communities.

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