Quite often the student who hasn't learned to read by third grade is the student who drops out or "falls through the cracks." Pretty much everyone in education is intrinsically motivated by a student who personally impacted their life.
A family friend has a son, Jay (fictitious name), whom I got to know when he was in 10th grade and started attending Jefferson Academy. Jay has a very kind spirit and is a good kid. But in elementary school he'd fallen through the cracks because he didn't easily pick up learning through methods commonly used in the classroom. The school system didn't catch, diagnose and address his learning needs and so he began to think he just couldn't learn. Jay is a very bright boy who is ingenious in many regards. He has a caring family with parents who tried to advocate for him many times. But the beliefs that he began to believe when his academic struggles weren't addressed, impacted him. Like many students, Jay's needs weren't so severe that he was labeled special ed or became a discipline problem. The gap that started out as a small gap in the primary grades just grew each year Jay progressed in school. Jay is the reason I'm passionate about not letting kids fall through the cracks. It's a disservice to the students and families involved, but how it affects an individual's life is just plain WRONG!
For most students, the learning gap is about reading. Not being able to read, or read well, eventually impacts every subject. The gap increases until the student drops out of school. In first grade, 30 minutes of reading intervention is equivalent to two hours of intervention in fourth grade. Closing the achievement gap begins in the primary grades.