Just 41% of third graders in Arizona are reading at grade level

Mar 4, 2024, 3:00 PM | Updated: Apr 5, 2024, 3:47 pm

This month's KTAR’s community spotlight shines on Helios Education Foundation and its mission to ...

This month's KTAR’s community spotlight shines on Helios Education Foundation and its mission to accelerate progress in early literacy across Arizona. (Helios Photo)

(Helios Photo)

PHOENIX – Arizona faces an urgent need to improve early literacy, with only 41% of third graders reading at grade level.

This issue is exacerbated for students from low-income backgrounds and Latino students, with rates as low as 27% and 30% respectively. The findings come from the latest Arizona Education Progress Meter, which tracks key areas to improve the state’s education system.

“Reading is the foundational skill for all future learning,” Helios Education Foundation President and CEO Paul J. Luna told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Arizona’s Morning News. “Students learn to read by third grade and then, following third grade, they read to learn.”

Ensuring students can read proficiently by the end of third grade is a focus area for Helios.

Since 2006, Helios has invested nearly $350 million in education initiatives in Arizona and Florida, the two states it serves. Its mission is to improve education outcomes and increase postsecondary education attainment for all students, especially from low-income and underrepresented communities.

Luna noted there’s a statewide goal to get 72% of third graders reading proficiently by the year 2030. Progress toward reaching that goal was halted during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, just 35% of third graders were reading proficiently, compared with 46% right before the pandemic began in 2019.

“We have seen reading scores rebound, but they’re still not where we’d like them to be,” Luna stressed.

That is why Helios has partnered with organizations that are working to improve early literacy outcomes.

This includes Read on Arizona, which has identified chronic absenteeism as a barrier to reading proficiency. Last May, it formed a statewide taskforce to develop recommendations and resources that’ll help prevent chronic absenteeism and reengage students who’ve missed too many school days.

In September, Helios teamed up with the Phoenix Final Four Local Organizing Committee to launch Read to the Final Four. The reading competition used the excitement surrounding the 2024 Men’s Final Four hosted in Arizona this year inspire third graders from across the state to accelerate their reading skills.

Helios also supports Read Better Be Better, a local nonprofit hoping to inspire a love of literacy and learning through a unique reading intervention program that matches kinder through third graders with middle, high school and college students. The program is now available in more than 100 schools across Maricopa County.

“Together with our partners, we are working to improve early literacy so that all children learn to read and can be successful in school and later in life,” Luna said.

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Just 41% of third graders in Arizona are reading at grade level