Third Grade Students Scoring Proficient or Higher on English Language Arts CST, by Race/Ethnicity

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Learn More About Reading Proficiency

Measures of Reading Proficiency on
On, reading proficiency is measured by the percentage of 3rd graders in public schools who score proficient or higher on the English Language Arts California Standards Test (CST). These data are available by English fluency, race/ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.
In order to score proficient on the CST, a student must demonstrate a competent and adequate understanding of the knowledge and skills measured by this assessment, at this grade, in this content area; scoring advanced requires a comprehensive and complex understanding.
Reading Proficiency
Bullying and Harassment at School
College Eligibility
Demographics of Children with Special Needs
Disconnected Youth
English Learners
High School Graduation
Math Proficiency
School Connectedness
Pupil Support Service Personnel
School Safety
Truancy, Suspensions & Expulsions
Why This Topic Is Important
Third grade reading scores are highly correlated with later academic success; some research indicates that reading proficiency at the end of third grade is predictive of whether or not a student will graduate from high school (1, 2). Generally, third grade marks the transition from "learning to read" to "reading to learn" (1). Students with limited reading abilities have a harder time keeping up across multiple subjects (including math, science, and other languages), and those who fall behind in the early grades often stay behind (1). Thus, early intervention is critical for children who are struggling with reading.

State and national data consistently show an achievement gap in reading proficiency between some racial/ethnic groups (see California data), though researchers agree the gap largely is due to socioeconomic factors, such as parental education and family income (3). Some progress has been made in closing the gap, but disparities remain.

For more information on reading proficiency see’s Research & Links section.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  Musen, L. (2010). Early reading proficiency. New York, NY: Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University. Retrieved from:

2.  Child Trends. (2012). Reading proficiency. Retrieved from:

3.  Lara-Cinisomo, S., et al. (2004). A matter of class: Educational achievement reflects family background more than ethnicity or immigration. Rand Review, 28(3). Retrieved from:

How Children Are Faring
In 2013, 45% of California 3rd graders were proficient or advanced in English Language Arts (reading), up from 33% in 2003. Reading proficiency in 3rd grade varies widely at the county level, ranging from 24% to 66% in 2013. Data also show that reading proficiency varies by English fluency, race/ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. For example, 2013 California data show that 33% of economically disadvantaged 3rd graders were proficient in reading, compared to 67% among higher income students. Although disparities remain, the percentage of reading-proficient students increased between 2003 and 2013 for all subgroups with available data (i.e., economically disadvantaged students, English Learners, and students in all racial/ethnic groups).
Policy Implications
As California implements “Common Core” state standards in English-language arts, policymakers face challenges in authorizing new assessments, curricula, and teacher evaluation systems that align with those standards (1, 2). Teacher quality has been shown to have a significant impact on student achievement in general, and specifically on reading proficiency; acquiring reading proficiency by third grade is a key indicator of later school achievement (1, 3).

According to research and subject experts, policy options that could improve reading proficiency include:
  • Improving teacher quality at every grade level (1, 3)
  • Investing in quality preschool or kindergarten readiness programs to lay the foundation for later achievement (4)
  • Supporting literacy initiatives that include curriculum, instruction, student assessments, and teacher professional development reflecting the most current understandings in the field (5) 
  • Articulating state, district, and school-level middle school policies that emphasize improving academic outcomes for all students, including tying student outcomes to teacher evaluations; aligning middle school curricula, instructional practices and assessments with state standards; and prioritizing student academic performance when selecting superintendents and principals (6)
  • Analyzing district and school-level data on student achievement and progress by racial/ethnic group, especially for children of color and low-income students so that data can inform policy (7)
  • Encouraging and investing in comprehensive, evidence-based policies to promote family involvement in school, which is related to higher levels of achievement motivation, task-persistence, and receptive vocabulary (8)
For more policy ideas on reading proficiency in California, see the Research & Links section on or visit the Center on the Future of Teaching and Learning, the Institute of Education Sciences What Works Clearinghouse, Education Trust-WestSource, and Early Edge California. Also see Policy Implications on under Math ProficiencyHigh School Dropouts and Family Income & Poverty.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  The Center for the Future of Teaching & Learning at WestEd. (2012). CenterView: Willing but not yet ready: A glimpse of California teachers’ preparedness for the Common Core State Standards. Retrieved from:

2.  California Department of Education. (2013). Common core state standards. Retrieved from: 

3.  Education Trust-West. (2013). The Education Trust-West 2013 Policy Agenda. Retrieved from:

4.  Evans, L. (2013). Kindergarten readiness program are beneficial to fulfilling benchmarks and standards. Northern Michigan University. Retrieved from:

5.  Alliance for Excellent Education. (2012). Policy brief: Confronting the crisis: Federal investments in state birth-through-grade-twelve literacy education. Retrieved from:

6.   EdSource. (2010). Gaining ground in the middle grades: Why some schools do better. Retrieved from:

7.  Stuart, L., & Hahnel, C. (2011). A report card on district achievement: How low-income, African-American, and Latino students fare in California school districts. Education Trust-West. Retrieved from:

8.  El Nokali, N., et al. (2010). Parent involvement and children’s academic and social development in elementary school. Child Development, 81(3), 988-1005. Retrieved from:
Websites with Related Information
Key Reports
County/Regional Reports
More Data Sources For Reading Proficiency