Focusing on Early Grade Success in Arizona

Author: Dr. Karen Ortiz, Vice President and Program Director, Early Grade Success

March 22, 2016

In laying the foundation for success in school and beyond, the ages between birth to eight are the most critical in a child's development. Research indicates that children exposed to quality early learning environments are more likely to perform well academically, be more socially and emotionally well adjusted, abstain from delinquent behavior and graduate from high school.1 In addition, we know that reading at grade level by the end of third grade is a critical milestone that paves the way for long-term academic success.  However, in 2015, only 41 percent of Arizona third graders are proficient or highly proficient in reading.2

Research indicates that children who are struggling readers in 1st grade are 88% more likely to be struggling readers in 4th grade. When children struggle to read in 4th grade, they are four times more likely to drop out of high school.3  The fact is, if children are not on track by the end of third grade, their chances for success decrease substantially.

However, we can’t wait until a child enters first grade to address language and literacy issues. Research shows that gaps in children’s vocabulary start to develop as early as 9-18 months of age.  In addition, oral language abilities - knowledge of text, fluency, and the development of short but contextual sentences - at 3 and 4 years old are good predictors of reading comprehension at ages 9 and 10. It is far easier to provide opportunities for families of children between the ages of birth to five to have access to quality early education experiences than to try and catch them up later through interventions, and remediation in the kindergarten to second grade years and potentially facing retention at the end of third grade.

Individuals and organizations in Arizona are making progress in strengthening opportunities for young children. The Arizona Early Childhood Alliance is an alliance of 50 organizations statewide who are working together to give every Arizona child a great start in life. They are raising awareness, building support and advocating for policies, programs and funding to ensure all Arizona children are prepared for Kindergarten and are on track to succeed by the end of third grade.  In addition, organizations like First Things First are providing opportunities for families to have access to high quality preschool early childhood programs, preventative health and parenting education. 

Arizona must continue to prioritize early childhood education with a focus providing opportunities for our youngest children to have experiences that contribute to the cognitive and social emotional development that contributes to success in the early grades, ultimately grade level reading by the end of third grade.   

1 - Schweinhart, L. J., Montie, J., Xiang, Z., Barnett, W. S., Belfield, C. R., & Nores, M. (2005). The High/Scope Perry Preschool Study through age 40: Summary, conclusions, and frequently asked questions. Ypsilanti, MI: High/Scope Press. Retrieved from

2 - 2015 AzMERIT Scores, Arizona Department of Education.

3 - Make Way for Books, Retrieved from

Category: Early Childhood Education

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