Third-Grade Reading Scores

Average reading test scores (in grade levels) of third graders in public schools. Note: this metric is at the city (not school district) level.

Stanford Education Data Archive. Data from the school year ending in 2018.
National Average

Why do we measure third-grade reading scores?

Third-grade reading scores are a well-recognized predictor of future academic success. Third grade is typically when children transition from learning to read to reading to learn.1 Children who are not at the  appropriate reading level by the end of third grade are at risk for repeating a grade or eventually dropping out of school.1 Adults with poor reading skills are less likely to find employment, and are more likely to face social and economic challenges.2,3 Adults with the most limited literacy and health literacy skills report the worst health, and low literacy is associated with several adverse health outcomes.4,5

The impact of low third-grade reading scores is often worse for children in poverty, as they are also more likely to be chronically absent from school and lack access to early education programs.1,3,6

How do we measure third-grade reading scores?

The Dashboard’s third-grade reading score metric estimates average reading test scores (reported as grade levels) of third-grade students in public schools. All schools located within the city are included in the estimate. Thus, this is a city-level, not a school district-level, estimate. All public schools, except special education schools and schools that taught virtually (remotely) for at least one year starting with the 2010-2011 school year, are included in the calculation.

Note: In November 2021, the City Health Dashboard replaced the third-grade reading proficiency metric with third-grade reading scores. While the old metric looks at the percentage of public school third-graders who score “proficient” or above in reading on standardized tests, this new metric looks at average reading test scores (in grade levels) of third-grader students in public schools compared to the national average of 3 (for third-grade level). For example, in 2018, Redwood City, Calif., had an average score of 3.5, which means that third-grade students there scored 0.5 grade levels above the national average for third graders. In addition, the new metric excludes special education and virtual schools, whereas the earlier version included all school types. This decision was made based on expert consultation with the Stanford Education Data Archive (SEDA). Briefly, the exclusion of these two types of schools better represents students who live in cities, as most special education and virtual schools draw students from a wider geographic area. For more information, please refer to the  Stanford Education Data Archive Technical Documentation.

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Strengths and Limitations

Strengths of Metric

Limitations of Metric

• Third-grade reading scores predict future educational success. Measuring this early allows for timely interventions to improve a child’s reading skills.

• By identifying cities and communities with low levels of proficiency, officials can intervene with targeted programs.6

• Scores are scaled to be comparable across cities and years. 

• This metric is available broken down by race and ethnicity, which can help target resources and interventions for groups that historically have been underrepresented.

• School district boundaries do not always align perfectly with city boundaries, so schools within the same cities may not have the same types of programs available.

• This measure excludes students attending independent, parochial, special education, and virtual schools, so it does not capture all students who might live in a city.

• Race and ethnicity data are often collected using discrete options that may not account for all or multiple identities, leading to undercounting of those who are more likely to select "other."


City-level third-grade reading scores are modeled by the Stanford Education Data Archive (SEDA) using statistical methods. For more information, please refer to the City Health Dashboard Technical Document and Stanford Education Data Archive Technical Documentation.

Data Source

Estimates for this metric are from the Stanford Education Data Archive. For more information on the data source, please refer to the City Health Dashboard Technical Document.


  1. Hernandez DJ. Double Jeopardy: How Third-Grade Reading Skills and Poverty Influence High School Graduation. Annie E Casey Foundation. 2011.

  2. Caspi A, Bradley REW, Moffitt TE, Silva PA. Early Failure in the Labor Market: Childhood and Adolescent Predictors of Unemployment in the Transition to Adulthood. American Sociological Review. 1998;63(3):424-451. doi:10.2307/2657557

  3. Fiester L. Early Warning Confirmed: A Research Update on Third-grade Reading. 2013.; Accessed June 6, 2023.

  4. McCray AT. Promoting Health Literacy. Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association : JAMIA. Mar-Apr 09/03/received11/15/accepted 2005;12(2):152-163. doi:10.1197/jamia.M1687

  5. Dewalt DA, Berkman ND, Sheridan S, Lohr KN, Pignone MP. Literacy and health outcomes: a systematic review of the literature. J Gen Intern Med. Dec 2004;19(12):1228-39. doi:10.1111/j.1525-1497.2004.40153.x

  6. Bornfreund L, Cook S, Lieberman A, Loewenberg A. From Crawling to Walking: Ranking States on Birth-3rd Grade Policies That Support Strong Readers. New America. 2015.

Last updated: July 27, 2023