School Quality

Desired Trend


Current Trend

Baseline (2016): 55.6%
Current (2017): 57.2%

Theme Educated


Percent of third grade public school students who meet or exceed reading proficiency standards

Why is it Important?

Good schools are essential aspects of a sustainable community because they educate youth and strengthen the local economy. There are many ways to define and measure school quality, but one important measure is third grade reading proficiency. The third grade is a critical turning point for reading because that’s when curriculum shifts from students learning to read to students reading to learn. Students who are not proficient in reading by this point are much more likely to struggle and are four times more likely to drop out of high school.1

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) requires states to test students in grades three to eight every year for reading and math. Each state may establish their own test and proficiency standards, which can make comparisons between states impractical. In 2009, the National Governors Association developed the Common Core State Standards to make comparisons between states possible. Since then, Missouri and Illinois have both adopted and implemented tests that align with these standards. Illinois first implemented tests aligned with Common Core standards in 2014, and Missouri began implementation in 2015.2

While the goal of the Common Core State Standards is to make test results comparable, there are still different tests that align with these standards. In 2015, Missouri used tests from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, while Illinois used tests from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. Because tests in Missouri and Illinois are different, their results are not comparable. In addition, in 2016, Missouri switched to an internally developed test. As a result, it is not possible to compare Missouri’s 2016 test results with results from previous years.3 

How are we Doing?

In the St. Louis region, 57.2 percent of third grade public school students met or exceeded reading proficiency standards in the 2016-2017 school year, up from 55.6 percent in 2015-2016. Missouri and Illinois offer different tests to their students, therefore the results are not comparable.

In 2016-2017, 63.4 percent of third graders in the Missouri portion of the region scored proficient or higher in reading, up slightly from 61.9 percent in 2015-2016. Reading scores for the Missouri portion of the St. Louis region are slightly higher than scores for the entire state (62.2 percent). In the Illinois portion of the region, 36.0 percent of third graders met or exceeded the state’s reading standards in 2016-2017. This is a slight increase from 2015-2016, when 34.0 percent of third graders met state standards in reading. Reading scores for the state of Illinois were almost the same as scores within the region. Across the state, 36.1 percent of third graders met state standards in reading.

Data on testing scores by race is only available for Missouri. The scores show there is a wide gap between the average scores of white and black students in the St. Louis region’s portion of the state. In 2016-2017, white students were twice as likely to score proficient or higher on the state’s third grade reading assessment than black students. In 2016-2017, 76.2 percent of white students scored proficient or higher, compared with 37.0 percent of black students. The gap narrowed slightly since 2009-2010. According to data from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, in 2009-2010, white students were 2.3 times more likely to score proficient or higher on the reading assessment than black students. 

Geographic Level

St. Louis eight-county bi-state region, including Franklin, Jefferson, St. Charles, and St. Louis counties and the city of St. Louis in Missouri and Madison, Monroe, and St. Clair counties in Illinois. View map.


1 Hernandez, Donald, Double Jeopardy: How Third-Grade Reading Skills and Poverty Influence High School Graduation, The Annie E. Casey Foundation, 2012; accessed on 4 February 2014 at

2Common Core State Standards Initiative. Development Process. 2017. Accessed January 23, 2017.

3The state tests for this indicator are the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Missouri Assessment Program (MAP). The statistic includes students in Illinois who “meet” or “exceed” the third grade reading standard and students in Missouri who score “proficient” or “advanced”.

Data Sources

Illinois State Board of Education and Missouri Department of Elementary & Secondary Education