By 2025, 75 percent of Rhode Island's third graders will be "proficient or better" in reading, according to the goal announced Wednesday by Gov. Gina Raimondo. In setting the target, Raimondo cited evidence that suggests third grade reading is a strong indicator of future success in school.
"Today, I'm drawing a line in the sand and setting a clear goal for Rhode Island: By 2025, when the kids who were born this year reach third grade, three out of four will be reading at grade level," Raimondo said in a prepared statement.
Currently just under 40 percent of the state's third graders score at or above expectations in the English Language Arts section of the state's annual standardized test, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).
But average scores are significantly lower in urban communities like Providence, Central Falls and Woonsocket, which means the new target will require the most work in urban schools.
While acknowledging the goal is "ambitious," Rhode Island Kids Count Executive Director Elizabeth Burke Bryant praised the effort.
"We are very pleased that the Governor has today set critical, ambitious goals for third-grade reading proficiency and that she is focusing on all we need to be doing from birth through third grade in order to move the needle. "
In recent years, Rhode Island has expanded state-funded preschool classrooms and required full-day Kindergarten in all school districts, changes advocates like Kids Count say will help improve early reading rates. The state has also adopted new standards for public schools, the Common Core, which education officials argued were stronger than the state's prior standards.
But goals involving test scores have proved elusive in the past. Federal policies requiring states to meet score targets have been scaled back as states either lowered the difficulty level of their tests or struggled to meet the goals.
Rhode Island's scores have fallen since the introduction of PARCC in 2015, leading some critics to question whether the test is too difficult. State Education Commissioner Ken Wagner has said he does not believe the test is too hard, but he has argued for limiting the focus on testing. Wagner has decided not to pursue testing as a requirement for high school graduation.
On the governor's new reading target, Wagner said the state would need to "start early, partner with families and communities" and provide support for students.
"Reading starts in the family, continues in the community, and establishes itself as a lifetime skill in the school," Wagner's statement read. "Governor Raimondo's goal is ambitious, but great things follow high expectations - for ourselves and our children."