Reading Levels of Rural and Urban Third Graders Lag Behind Their Suburban Peers

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Carsey Institute

On average, the reading levels of third grade students in rural and urban schools are lower than those of suburban students.

The reading score of an average rural third grade student in the U.S. is 122 points on a scale from 1 to 212. This is nearly 8 points lower than the score of an average suburban student. The average urban student’s score is closer to the rural level, with a score of 124.

According to the study, rural students who were low achievers at the beginning of kindergarten have fallen behind those at the same level in suburban and urban environments by the third grade.

The study suggests that socioeconomic status is one indicator of what a child’s reading level will be when they start kindergarten.

Parents of rural children tend to have less education than suburban and urban parents. Rural children are also less likely to attend preschool.

However, the ability to read well before entering kindergarten seems to mitigate the gap. Students from all three environments who start kindergarten with high reading levels do not score differently from each other on average by the third grade.

The educational opportunities available to children play a large factor in reading achievement.

According to data from the Early Childhood Education Study, only 39 percent of teachers in rural schools believed that their school library was always adequate. This compares with 46 percent of suburban teachers and 61 percent of urban.

More rural teachers also indicated that their classrooms weren’t adequate, and fewer reported having professional development programs in place. Only 27 percent of rural schools have programs for continuing education for teachers, such as web-based coaching, but 40 percent or suburban and urban school reported having such programs.  

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