Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

In 2011, 39% of Massachusetts third graders scored below proficient in reading, compared with 37% in 2010, according to MCAS results released this afternoon by the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Performance has remained stagnant since 2001.  And the achievement gap widened for African-American, Latino and low-income children. Among the ethnic and racial groups, Asian children posted modest improvement.

Overall, the department reported mixed results across the spectrum of MCAS tests. (Read the news release. Read the summary report.)

Margaret Blood, president and founder of Strategies for Children, said the results reinforce the need for passage of An Act Relative to Third Grade Reading Proficiency, now pending on Beacon Hill. Here is her statement:

“The release of 2011 MCAS scores today reinforces the need to focus on ensuring that children can read proficiently by the end of third grade, a critical benchmark that strongly predicts their chances of future success. A full 39% of third graders scored below proficient on last spring’s MCAS, compared with 37% in 2010. Thousands of children across the commonwealth lag in reading, the basis of learning in all subjects. And the achievement gap is growing – for low-income children, African-American children and Latino children. Among children from low-income families, for instance, 60% scored below proficient. Equally disturbing, scores have remained stagnant since 2001.

Research tells us that three-quarters of children who struggle with reading in third grade will continue to struggle in school, substantially reducing their chances of graduating from high school or pursuing the higher education essential for our knowledge-based economy. Research also tells us that children who lag in reading in third grade are four times less likely to graduate from high school by age 19 than children who are proficient readers in third grade.

“An Act Relative to Third Grade Reading Proficiency, now pending on Beacon Hill, would focus state attention on this vital issue.  The need has never been greater. We have one of the nation’s most sophisticated, innovation-based economies. Yet, according to newly released data from the 2010 U.S. decennial census, Massachusetts has an aging workforce and a declining population of children for our labor pipeline. Now more than ever, the commonwealth’s future prosperity depends on our ability to prepare the next generation – the entire next generation — to succeed. We must recognize that the path to literacy begins at birth. We must act on the fact that the achievement gap is apparent long before children enter school. We must invest in high-quality early education, one of the few educational strategies with a demonstrated positive effect on early literacy, as well as future academic achievement and social-emotional development. If we ensure that children in Massachusetts become proficient readers by the end of third grade, everything else on the education agenda will be easier to tackle, as will our ability to meet the needs of tomorrow’s economy.”

Here are some additional highlights from the newly released summary report:

In June 2010, Strategies for Children released “Turning the Page: Refocusing Massachusetts for Reading Success,” a report commissioned from Nonie Lesaux, Ph.D., a nationally known expert on literacy and language development at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Her recommendations in the areas of assessment, curriculum, professional development and family engagement inform An Act Relative to Third Grade Reading Proficiency, introduced by Senator Katherine Clark and Representative Martha Walz and now pending before the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Education after a public hearing in May.