Arizona Statewide Initiative to Improve Third Grade Reading Among Finalists for National Award

June 08, 2012


An ambitious plan to ensure that more Arizona children are reading at grade level by the end of third grade has been chosen as a finalist for the All-America City Award, sponsored each year by the National Civic League. Arizona’s application is one of 32 finalists selected through a peer review process from a field of more than 100 entries across the country. Winners will be announced July 2 in Denver, Colorado.

The Arizona initiative is being spearheaded by three funders — Helios Education Foundation, Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust, and the Arizona Community Foundation (ACF) — who are collaborating with the Valley of the Sun United Way, United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona, United Way of Northern Arizona, the United Way of Yuma County, numerous cities and other organizations across the state who are committed to the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.

Reading by third grade marks a milestone when children shift from learning to read and begin reading to learn. Students who haven't mastered reading by then often struggle academically and are at risk of dropping out of school.

“Ensuring that Arizona’s students are reading by third grade is critical to keeping our students on a path toward academic success,” said Dr. Karen Ortiz, Vice President and Program Director, Early Childhood Education for Helios Education Foundation. “All of the partners involved are working to develop an integrated statewide system that addresses the leading causes preventing students from reading at grade level: school readiness, school absenteeism and summer learning loss. We are thrilled that this work is being recognized by the National Civic League.”

The four United Way organizations worked collaboratively to develop plans for each of their communities, identifying common themes that exist in each of the four corners of the state. The three funders will invest in projects and strategies from the state’s action plan that share the most common goals and outcomes among the four United Way communities.

Proposed strategies will be implemented using a systems approach that integrates existing and new programs into a pipeline of learning that begins at birth and continues through third grade.

“Third grade reading levels are strong predictors of ninth grade performance, high school graduation and college attendance—these milestones ultimately lead to the quality and competitiveness of Arizona’s workforce. It’s imperative, and commendable, as this recognition from the National Civic League highlights, that agencies and organizations continue working together to strengthen and invest in quality reading initiatives,” said Marilee Dal Pra, program director, Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust.

Beyond the award contest, Arizona’s plan makes the state a charter member in a national movement of local governments, nonprofit organizations, foundations and others advancing the critical importance of third-grade reading. The 124 cities and counties around the country involved in the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading Community Network are adopting a collective impact strategy and engaging the full community around the goal of supporting low-income children from birth through third grade.

As a charter member, Arizona will have access to a Promising Practices Clearinghouse, an online help desk, peer-learning opportunities, meetings with national experts and policymakers, and a foundation registry designed to expand and replicate successful programs.

"Reading fluently by third grade is the first and most important milestone a student achieves and sets the stage for all future academic success," said Steven G. Seleznow, president and CEO of the Arizona Community Foundation. "This Initiative will ensure that the 'cracks' in the system are sealed and all dots connected for every child to learn at high levels."

Helios, ACF and Piper Trust will continue to promote strategies and policies that work to close reading achievement gaps, raise the bar for reading proficiency so that all students are assessed by world-class standards, and ensure that all children have an equitable opportunity to meet those higher standards.
All of the organizations involved are building on and enhancing the data collection and other work already done by Arizona stakeholders such as First Things First, the Arizona Department of Education and the United Way.

For more information on the national Campaign for Grade Level Reading, visit their website at:

To learn more about Helios Education Foundation, visit

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