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#AskExcelinEd: What impact does a comprehensive K-3 Reading Policy have on 4th grade NAEP scores?

• Christy Hovanetz, Ph.D.

Last month, the release of the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) showed mixed results nationally, however we saw some bright spots in fourth-grade reading performance from some states like Arizona, Florida, and Mississippi.

In our last #AskExcelinEd NAEP series, we explore states that have a comprehensive K-3 Reading policy and its impact on fourth-grade reading. Thanks to Dr. Christy Hovanetz, ExcelinEd’s Senior Policy Fellow, and Jim Hull, ExcelinEd’s Policy Impact Director, for diving into the data!

Several states made greater improvements than the national average on their 2017 NAEP fourth-grade reading assessment. And it’s not just coincidental that these states also happened to prioritize early literacy by putting in place some key policies to address the literacy crisis.

A comprehensive K-3 reading policy is crucial for students. From kindergarten through third grade, children are learning to read. Then in fourth grade, the expectation is for students to use reading to learn. When fully implemented, a K-3 reading policy ensures all students enter fourth grade with the foundational reading skills they will need to learn, graduate and succeed.

ExcelinEd’s K-3 reading policy focuses on grade level reading for all students through the following practices:

  • Evidence-based reading instruction in kindergarten through third grade,
  • Early literacy screenings to identify students who need more support,
  • Individual reading intervention plans for identified students,
  • Parent resources to support literacy at home
  • Extra training and support for teachers, and
  • Retention as a last resort for students who are severely below grade level and need more time to develop their reading skills.

What does a K-3 reading policy look like in action?


In 2002, Florida launched its K-3 Reading program Just Read, Florida! focusing on the goal of every child being able to read. Since starting this initiative, Florida’s fourth-grade students have improved 13.9 scale score points more than the national average on NAEP.


In 2013, Mississippi enacted their Literacy-Based Promotion Act which places an emphasis on grade-level reading skills for all kindergarten through third grade students. In the four years this initiative has been in place, Mississippi fourth grade students have improved 6.7 scale score points more than the national average on NAEP.


In 2010, Arizona created the Move on When Reading policy to ensure that all children can read by the end of third grade, positioning them for success through life.

Since the start of this program, Arizona’s fourth-grade readers have improved 5.5 scale score points more than the national average on NAEP

(10 points on a NAEP assessment is roughly equivalent to a year’s worth of learning.)

After multiple years of implementing comprehensive K–3 reading policies, students in these states are making greater improvements on NAEP. And those improvements translate to thousands more students with access to the lifelong opportunities and growth that literacy offers.

I hope leaders in other states, inspired by this progress, will take the bold action necessary to prioritize early literacy for their students.


About the author

Christy Hovanetz, Ph.D.

Christy Hovanetz is a Senior Policy Fellow for ExcelinEd focusing on school accountability policies. Dr. Hovanetz served as the Assistant Commissioner at the Minnesota Department of Education and Assistant Deputy Commissioner at the Florida Department of Education. She has worked in education policy for the state of Florida since 1999 serving as the Director of Evaluation and Reporting, Director of Reading First and a Policy Analyst for Governor Jeb Bush. She graduated summa cum laude from St. Cloud State University with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Education with a minor in mathematics and is a certified teacher in the state of Minnesota. She earned her Masters of Public Administration at the University of Minnesota and a Doctor of Philosophy in Public Administration and Policy at Florida State University.