Success by Third Grade

A Movement to Build a Better Future for Franklin County Children and Families

Imagine a community where every child begins the school day feeling healthy, happy, well fed and safe, with equitable access to resources and opportunities. That is the vision for Success by Third Grade, and together, we can ensure that every child in Franklin County is on a pathway to success once they leave third grade.

Using a proven collective impact model, United Way of Central Ohio serves as the backbone organization for Success by Third Grade, bringing together individuals, nonprofits, corporations, school districts and governments to tackle non-academic barriers that impact reading proficiency.


In the 2018-2019 school year, seven of the 16 Franklin County school districts had third grade proficiency rates under 75%, and scores dropped even lower following the pandemic. Experts attribute the decline to students experiencing non-academic barriers, including food insecurity, a lack of safe and stable housing, mental health issues, low self-esteem, plus limited access to needed support and services.

The Importance of Third Grade

Up until third grade, a child is learning to read. Upon entering fourth grade, children are reading to learn – or at least should be. If this transition doesn’t occur at this stage, a child’s future is severely compromised, making them particularly vulnerable to dropping out of high school, and they will almost certainly have difficulty finding success in the workforce.

We know that to build a strong future for our community, our children must have the resources and opportunities they need to succeed today.


Every child in Franklin County has the right to a quality education, but the hard work doesn’t start and end in the classroom. It takes an understanding of the dynamics that impact student success outside of the classroom and a collective impact approach that brings people together in a structured way to achieve social change. That’s why United Way is uniquely qualified to lead this vital movement.

Support the Unique Needs of Students

With Success by Third Grade, our seven network directors in seven school districts align existing services to create community partner networks that strategically support the unique needs of students and families, accelerating the path to reading proficiency like no one organization can.

Network directors are currently working alongside educators, administrators, organizations and families in these districts: Columbus City Schools, Gahanna-Jefferson, Whitehall, Reynoldsburg, Groveport Madison, South-Western and Westerville.

Third Grade is A Pivotal Moment in A Student's Life

Third grade is a pivotal moment in a student’s life, and many Franklin County school districts don’t have the resources or connections to address non-academic reading proficiency barriers. But as a community working collectively, we do. The Success by Third Grade collective impact model ensures community partners are communicating, convening and sharing information in order to align efforts and make meaningful, sustainable progress.

Examples of Success by Third Grade in Action

Because the needs of families and students differ from school district to school district, the network directors work closely with educators and families to assess needs within their district.

For example, in Columbus City Schools (CCS), the network director identified community summer programs available in the Near East and South Side neighborhoods through resource mapping, a process that includes identifying, visually representing and sharing information about external supports and services.

This information allowed CCS to work directly with staff from 40 programs on incorporating literacy into their summer curriculum and provided them with books, workbooks, games and other supplies to support and align literacy learning.

The CCS Trevitt Elementary School principal also used the information to identify summer programs for 33 children who were at risk of not passing third grade. They were offered spots in nearby programs, and support was secured to pay for their attendance and field trip fees.


Academic Achievement

It’s measured by reading scores that show third grade reading proficiency using the Ohio Department of Education and participating school districts as sources. In 2022, the seven districts currently participating in Success by Third Grade had 47% of students reading proficiently or higher in third grade, compared to 77% of nonparticipating school districts. The target goal is to cut that 30-point proficiency gap in half by 2035. This target goal would bring the percentage of students reading proficiently or higher in Success by Third Grade school districts to at least 62%.

Quality of Life

Measured by basic needs met, home and family stability (e.g., housing cost burden, food security, student mobility), using community partners and Opportunity Index reports as sources. In comparison, Quality of Life is more complex to measure than Academic Achievement. But United Way has a long history of working with nonprofit partners to measure impact.

Success by Third Grade is critical work being measured and tracked by United Way’s data team and community stakeholders. We know a child on a pathway to success feels included, believes in themself, has a stable home environment, and is present, safe and supported at school. So, we’ve developed two Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for measuring success: Academic Achievement and Quality of Life.

Our Children’s Future Is In Our Hands.

Will You Join the Movement?

With support from government, corporations and individuals, we’re committed to raising $10.7 million to fund the first five years of Success by Third Grade. Your support will go toward this critical work that strengthens families and our entire community. So please join us and the many others raising their hands. UNITED, we can do more than imagine a stronger, more equitable future for all children and central Ohio. We can create it.

There are many ways to get involved:

Join the movement and learn about volunteer opportunities by signing up for text alerts.
Text CONNECTED  to  50503.

Funders and Resources

Success by Third Grade wouldn’t be possible without the support of our funders.
We are grateful for their continuous generosity to this important movement. There’s nothing we can’t achieve when we stand united. 

Thank You To Our Funders

American Electric Power
Bath & Body Works, Inc.
Big Lots
Bread Financial
Cardinal Health, Inc.
City of Columbus
Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority
Dupler Office
Fifth Third Bank
Franklin County Board of Commissioners
Gannett Foundation
Heartland Bank
Medical Mutual of Ohio
Osteopathic Heritage Foundation
PNC Financial Services Group
White Castle System, Inc.