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Indicator: Early grades on track


Students in grades 1 and 2 are on track to achieve academic proficiency in grade 3.


Percentage of students in grades 1 and 2 meeting grade-level math and reading benchmarks, with an attendance rate of 90 percent or higher, and no in- or out-of-school suspensions or expulsions

Data Source(s)

Assessments; administrative data

Why it matters

An on-track measure before grade 3 can help schools target additional support to students at risk of not meeting grade-level proficiency standards in grade 3, which is a strong predictor of later outcomes. For example, a study in three diverse urban districts found that math and reading benchmark performance and growth and chronic absenteeism in grades K–2 were important and consistent predictors for reading success in grade 3. Early on-track measures are relatively newer than those used in middle and high school, but have been implemented in some contexts, such as Montgomery County Public Schools, to identify students who need support as early as grade 1. Disparities in children’s early-grade outcomes along income and race are evident, pointing to the need for early intervention. For instance, a study of nationally representative data found that at the start of grade 1, Black children’s reading proficiency was three months behind that of White children, and math proficiency was almost five months behind; these disparities were only slightly smaller for Latino children.

What to know about measurement

Each on-track indicator in the E-W Framework is supported by research conducted in specific district contexts; therefore, the specific criteria used to define whether a student is on track might not predict long-run outcomes equally well in all settings. To define this indicator, we drew on research in Montgomery County Public Schools, which found that grade 1 students well below grade level in reading, math, or both; absent nine or more days; or suspended one or more times were significantly more likely to drop out of high school. If possible, research based on local data should be conducted to validate this measure of students’ on-track status in other settings.

Although attendance and suspension data are generally available to measure this indicator, benchmark tests in early grades are not universally administered and can vary across states and districts. Math and reading proficiency are measured in kindergarten through grade 2 in 37 states (as well as the District of Columbia). Assessments range from screeners and diagnostic assessments to formative and summative assessments. Thus, this indicator might not be fully comparable across contexts and might not be feasible in districts that do not currently give early-grades assessments. Emerging multilingual students should be tested in their home language, though not all assessments make this possible. Additional considerations for attendance and discipline data are discussed in the next two indicators (consistent attendance and positive behavior).

Source frameworks

Although general “academic proficiency” or “academic progress” in K–12 appeared in four source frameworks reviewed for this report, none of the source frameworks specifically included an early grades on track indicator. As discussed above, our proposed definition and measure draw on research in Montgomery County Public Schools.


The framework's recommendations are based on syntheses of existing research. Please see the framework report for a list of works cited.

This website was funded in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.