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A new analysis of standardized test scores from 2007 to 2014 by youth-advocacy group D.C. Action for Children finds that third-grade reading proficiency did not improve citywide during that period.

Relying upon data provided by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (which the group then weighted), the analysis also finds that reading scores significantly declined among economically disadvantaged and black third-grade students over this period. Fewer than 45 percent of third-graders in both D.C. Public Schools and D.C. Public Charter Schools scored “proficient or above” in reading on the 2014 CAS, according to D.C. Action for Children. Notably, over the years studied, disadvantaged students in schools with “economically integrated” populations appeared to do better.

“Why third grade? Because it’s a critical turning point” in child development, HyeSook Chung, executive director of the group, says. “It’s the kind of place where we can set a barometer—what did [kids] get from early-learning grades?”

Research shows a child’s reading proficiency by third grade can predict her or his academic success later in life. The report finds that the D.C. Public Education Reform Amendment Act passed several years ago did not result in marked boosts in third-graders’ reading levels. Among low-income third-grade students, only 34 percent scored proficient or above on the DC CAS for reading in 2014; 78 percent of their peers from more affluent families scored proficient or above on it.

The report highlights other academic gaps. Nine in 10 white third-graders attained proficient scores on the 2014 test, versus 35 and 36 percent of black and Hispanic third-graders, respectively, according to D.C Action for Children.

Based on its findings, the group recommends that D.C. invest even more in early care and education programs such as home visits as well as strengthen early literacy programs such as the D.C. Public Library’s “Books from Birth” program.

“I think there’s optimism for city politicians and legislators that with investment in pre-K, we’ll see parallel returns,” Chung says. “We need to keep up that trend. I want to start younger.”

There are more than 40,000 children under the age of five residing in the District. You can read the full report here.

Screenshots via D.C. Action for Children analysis