Photo: Kate Samp for Strategies for Children

The Annie E. Casey Foundation has rereleased its 2011 report  “Double Jeopardy: How Poverty & Third Grade Reading Skills Influence High School Graduation,” this time adding neighborhood poverty to a list of variables that already includes third grade reading proficiency and family income.

The bottom line of the new 2012 analysis? Children who are not proficient readers by the end of third grade are four times less likely to finish high school by age 19 than children who are proficient readers. Compared to proficient readers from families with incomes above the poverty line, struggling readers from families with incomes below the poverty line are 13 times less likely to finish high school by age 19, and struggling readers from poor families who live in high-poverty communities are 17 times less likely.

Overall, 16% of struggling third grade readers do not finish high school by age 19, compared with 26% from poor families and 35% from poor families that live in high-poverty neighborhoods.

“If we expect these children to break the cycle of poverty, they must graduate from high school. Unless we get them reading on grade level, high school graduation is unlikely,” said Ralph Smith, the Casey senior vice president who also directs the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, a national collaborative of funders and non-profit organizations working to improve third grade literacy.

The new numbers are particularly disturbing given the 25% increase since 2000 in the number of children in poor families living in areas of concentrated poverty, according to Casey’s KIDS COUNT.

“Neighborhoods matter,” Hunter College sociologist Donald J. Hernandez, who conducted the research for “Double Jeopardy,” said in a news release.  “We need to think about effective policies that reduce poverty and increase reading skills for all children, including strategies that align early education with grades K-3rd and workforce development for parents that lead to secure jobs with middle-class incomes for families. Such policies would not only help individual children and families, but also reduce neighborhood poverty rates and, hence, the toxic effects of concentrated poverty.”

The report also examines correlations among race and ethnicity, reading, and family income. “Racial and ethnic graduation gaps disappear,” it states, “when children master reading by the end of third grade and are not living in poverty.”

Across the country, too many children leave third grade not able to read proficiently, thus missing a critical educational benchmark that strongly predicts their chances of future success. Almost two-thirds (66%) of fourth graders scored below proficient in reading on the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress.

The “Double Jeopardy” report is based on data from a longitudinal study of 3,975 students born between 1979 and 1989. Researchers surveyed the children’s parents every two years to track their economic status and other variables. Roughly 18% lived at least part of their childhood in high-poverty areas, 14% lived in affluent areas, and the rest lived in middle class communities.

Here are some other highlights of the report:

“Effective policies that lift families out of poverty and increase reading skills would, at the same time, also reduce local poverty rates and the number of high-poverty neighborhoods,” the report concludes. “Such policies could also be transformative in middle-class neighborhoods, where, in the present study, 64% of all children with family poverty experience live. In short, these results point especially to the need for policies that invest in education, health and the economic security of families, particularly for black and Hispanic families, in both high-poverty and middle-class neighborhoods across the United States.”