This morning, we released the report – “Turning the Page: Refocusing Massachusetts for Reading Success” – at an event at the Boston Public Library attended by about 250 people. In his closing remarks,  Secretary of Education Paul Reville called the report “a call to action.”

Click here for the full report and more information about reading proficiency. Keep reading for the news release we issued about the report:

Despite leading the country on national reading tests, 43% of Massachusetts third graders read below grade level. A new report on third grade reading – a critical predictor of later success — is the first to address this problem in Massachusetts and offer recommendations to ensure that the commonwealth’s children become strong readers.

Three-quarters of children who are not proficient readers by the end of third grade, research indicates, will still struggle in high school and are at significant risk of not graduating or contributing to the state’s knowledge-based economy.

The report commissioned by Strategies for Children, Inc., adds to growing national interest in both third grade reading and language development in young children, starting at birth.

“There is a limited window of time in which to prevent reading difficulties and promote reading achievement,” the report states. “For most children what happens (or doesn’t happen) from infancy through age 9 is critical. By third grade, reading struggles are strongly linked to later school difficulties, as well as behavioral problems, depression, and dysfunctional and/or negative peer relationships.”

The report, “Turning the Page: Refocusing Massachusetts for Reading Success,” was written by Nonie Lesaux, Ph.D., a nationally known expert on literacy at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. It includes recommendations on program design, assessments, professional development, curriculum and family engagement. Interventions in all these areas, the report urges, must be targeted and intense to make a difference.

“We have spent a lot of money on reading, but it tends to be scattered. Spray and pray,” said Richard Weissbourd, a lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Education and co-founder of ReadBoston, who serves on the board of Strategies for Children. “We need to capture that energy with more in-depth and intensive work and carefully evaluate programs for effectiveness.”

In her report, Lesaux emphasizes that the problem affects children in cities and suburbs alike. Two-thirds of low-income third graders do not read at grade level, and neither do one-third who are not poor. Many high school graduates are not prepared for college-level work. “We must pull our at-risk readers along and we must push all readers forward,” Lesaux writes.

The report prescribes providing children with the language-rich environments — in homes, community settings, early education programs and schools — that create the foundation for reading. Noting that children’s vocabulary at age 4 predicts their reading comprehension in third grade and beyond, the report recommends starting ongoing, developmentally appropriate assessments of children’s language and literacy development well before they enter school. It presses for a twin focus on fluency in decoding words and reading comprehension. It urges reading improvement programs to stress impact rather than the number of children served. It calls for strengthening professional development and linking improved training in language development and reading to classroom practice. It recommends bringing “language-rich, rigorous and engaging” curricula into early education and primary grade classrooms.

The report complements “Early Warning! Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters,” a national report released last month by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

“Taken together, this report and the Casey report should compel us to action,” said Margaret Blood, founder and president of Strategies for Children. “Massachusetts has a long history of leading the nation in education reform, and we have an opportunity now to lead again in developing the competent readers our children’s future and our country’s future demand.”

The Boston Foundation, Irene E. & George A. Davis Foundation, Nellie Mae Education Foundation, and Pew Charitable Trusts provided funding for the report.