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Is the pandemic behind the failure of Nevada's Read By 3rd Grade program?

Vegas Schools
AP Photo/John Locher

Tia Baker cleans a desk in a classroom during a media tour at Dorothy Eisenberg Elementary School, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, in Las Vegas.

Nevada wants school kids to read at a standardized level by third grade.

The argument for that is if a student can read comfortably by 9, it sets them up for academic success later on.

But many of these early learners are behind.

In March, Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara announced a worrisome statistic. He said two out of three children aren’t proficient readers by third grade.

It caught a lot of people off guard. Read by third grade was enacted by the Nevada Legislature in 2015.

Has the pandemic been the issue? What can the state do to turn it around?

Jonathan Moore is the deputy superintendent for student achievement for the Nevada Department of Education. He said the pandemic affected students’ learning overall, especially while schools were closed.

“When we think about reading, it's important for us, especially at the earliest levels, to think about the progression on a continuum,” Moore said.

“Essentially, if we start paying attention to literacy, by second first or even kinder, it actually is too late. We need to actually be taking a look at our youngest learners along a birth through third grade continuum, meaning from the moment that they're babies.”

For younger students, literacy has always been challenging, he said. All demographics were affected, but he said Black and Hispanic children, those from low-income backgrounds and students with disabilities fell the farthest behind.  

Despite that, he said the read by third grade effort has Nevada on trend with other states. A student who the state considers proficient in reading will score at level or higher on a summative assessment in the spring of their third grade year.

If a student isn’t proficient, they aren’t held back. Moore said students and their parents are supported to move the student forward and close the gap.  

“Instructional materials for students and educators are approved by the Nevada State Board of Education after a review by our state's content panel for each content area, in this case, literacy,” Moore said. “And from there, our school districts can select from the state-adopted list for use in their schools. With this approach, there is alignment in the curriculum being delivered to students … But also, each district can make the determination on what is the best fit for their school and their communities.”

Is your kid falling behind in reading? He encouraged parents and family members to build reading into their daily home life. Research indicates that 20 minutes of reading daily can have a “tremendous impact” on their ability to build on literacy skills. 

Andrea Cole works as a private tutor and reading intervention group teacher.

“You just see that some kids aren't able to really make sense of the text, whether they're not able to connect those letter and sound combinations to make sense of the words that they're reading. So those gaps might be kind of more phonemic awareness or rhyming or they're not able to read some of the vowel combinations,” she said.

She said if a student is struggling to read, it’s likely affecting their other studies. 

“I think especially the older the kid, the more frustrated they are,” she said. “When a child is having difficulty with that, it can be really hard on them.”

Cole said a lot of teachers are doing progress monitoring this year, looking at each student and trying to figure out where they need to be. “You've got some kids that are, you know, like in a first grade classroom, you might have kids that are reading a chapter book, and you might have kids that are still working on their letter sounds.”

In addition to reading to your young children, she suggested having them listen to audio books. 

“Just keeping it positive and fun.”


Jonathan Moore, deputy superintendent for student achievement, Nevada Department of Education;  Andrea Cole, private tutor, reading intervention group teacher

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Kristen Kidman is a former senior producer at KNPR’s State of Nevada and is proud to be from Las Vegas.
Kristen DeSilva (she/her) is the audience engagement specialist for Nevada Public Radio. She curates and creates content for, our weekly newsletter and social media for Nevada Public Radio and Desert Companion.