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Success by Third Grade: An Important Communitywide Movement

May 20th, 2022


The ability to read by third grade plays a significant role in a person’s success later in life. Unfortunately, a growing number of students in Franklin County are failing to reach this critical milestone, requiring immediate and strategic intervention. In response, United Way of Central Ohio is taking the initiative to lead a countywide movement called Success By Third Grade to directly impact the many factors inhibiting student achievement.

Why Focus on Third Grade?

Research confirms that third graders who are unable to read at grade level are among the most vulnerable to dropping out of school before graduating. Consider these sobering facts:

  • Students not proficient in reading by the end of third grade were 4x more likely to drop out of high school. And 88% of students who failed to earn a high school diploma had struggled to achieve third grade reading proficiency. (The Annie E. Casey Foundation)
  • In Ohio in 2019, 78% of fourth graders from low-income families scored below proficient reading level, while only 47% of students from middle- to high-income families scored below proficient reading level.
    (Kids Count Data Center)

The Challenge in Franklin County

Throughout Franklin County, collaborations have mobilized to address infant mortality (CelebrateOne), ensure children are ready for kindergarten (Future Ready), coordinate supports for school-age children during out-of-school time (Partnership4Success), and provide high school graduates with post-high school degrees and credentials (Central Ohio Compact). However, there is no systemic-level collaborative effort to support children in kindergarten through third grade.

During the 2018-2019 school year, seven out of 16 Franklin County school districts had third grade proficiency rates under 75% and that percentage is plummeting. Experts attribute the decline to food insecurity issues and lack of access to safe, stable housing, as well as mental health issues and lack of self-efficacy, and limited access to needed support and services.

The Success by Third Grade Approach

United Way of Central Ohio is answering the call from school districts and community partners to provide supports to this important segment of our community. We believe that stepping into this space will help to close a gap and provide a critical link in our local pre-natal to college and career infrastructure pipeline.

For almost a year, district superintendents have worked with United Way of Central Ohio to develop the vision for Success By Third Grade and to expressly share what their students need to succeed in the classroom. Movement organizers hope that with government, corporate and individual contributions, they will raise $10.8 million to fund the first seven years of the movement to help students in Franklin County succeed.

Corporations including Cardinal Health, Bread Financial, Bath and Body Works, PNC and Nationwide have already committed financial support. In a show of support and commitment to this critical work, the City of Columbus and Franklin County committed $1 million to the movement, ensuring more children are on a path to success by the time they leave third grade. This collaboration is an example of the power of public/private partnerships.

With Support from:

Additional Resources:

Success by Third Grade Data Sheet

Success by Third Grade Overview

City of Columbus And Franklin County Commit $1 Million To Success By Third Grade Press Release

Conversations for the Cause: Innovative Solutions to Help Kids Succeed

Find volunteer opportunities related to supporting our community’s children and youth here.


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