Reading Proficiency

  Turning the Page
  Read report

Reading is the foundation of success in school, the workplace and civic life. Yet, despite Massachusetts' reputation as a national leader in education, 43% of the state's third graders scored below proficient on the latest MCAS reading test. Among third graders from low-income families, 61% scored below proficient in reading, according to the 2014 MCAS. And performance on this critical benchmark, which strongly predicts children’s chances of success in school and beyond, remains virtually unchanged since 2001. Research tells us that the path to turning this around starts at birth, with children’s earliest language development, and includes high-quality early education.

The stakes are high. Children who struggle with reading in third grade are four times less likely than other children to finish high school by age 19. In Massachusetts, almost 8,000 students dropped out of high school in 2011-12. Each Bay State dropout, on average, costs $349,000 more over a lifetime—in decreased tax revenues and increased public assistance costs—than the average graduate.

Find out about third grade reading proficiency in your community.

In 2010, Strategies for Children commissioned a report from Nonie Lesaux, Ph.D., a nationally known expert on language development and literacy at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and launched a 10-year campaign to improve children’s reading across the commonwealth. In “Turning the Page: Refocusing Massachusetts for Reading Success", Lesaux offers recommendations to improve the language and literacy development of children from birth to age 9.

Developing Readers Journey   Reader's Journey
View "A Developing Reader's Journey
to Third Grade" chart
  View audio slide show

A compelling body of research underscores the importance of reading proficiently by the end of third grade:

  • Three-quarters of children who struggle with reading in third grade will continue to struggle in school.
  • One in six children who struggled with reading in third grade do not finish high school by age 19, a rate that is four times greater than the rate for competent readers.
  • Vocabulary is a key predictor of reading comprehension. By age 3, children in low-income families have vocabularies that, on average, are half the size of those of their more affluent peers.
  • Children’s vocabulary in kindergarten is strongly correlated with reading performance in 10th grade.


See The Building Blocks of Reading Proficiency.

“Turning the Page” makes recommendations to improve children’s language and literacy development, across all settings—home, early education, school, community—where children, birth to age 9, learn.

  • Curriculum should be language-rich across all content areas.
  • Programs should be designed for depth and intensity of dosage, not numbers served, and then brought to scale.
  • Professional development should be ongoing, data-driven and linked to practice.
  • Developmentally appropriate assessment of children and program evaluation should be used to inform practice and track progress.
  • Partnerships with families should be supported and strengthened.

In 2012, Strategies for Children launched a two-pronged best practices initiative to help communities implement the above recommendations.

  • Leading the Conversation: Each event in this series of quarterly events, held around the state, focuses on one recommendation.
  • Massachusetts Reading Proficiency Learning Network. The network is comprised of five Massachusetts cities—Boston, Holyoke, Pittsfield, Springfield and Worcester—that have committed to sharing and learning best practices to ensure that children have access to high-quality early education and become proficient readers. All five applied for the 2012 All-America City Award, cosponsored by the National Civic League and the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.
400 Atlantic Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts 02110