Low Reading Scores Show Majority of U.S. Children Not Prepared for Future Success

Posted January 29, 2014
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Newsrelease earlyreadingproficiency 2014

In a new KIDS COUNT data snap­shot, the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion finds that 80% of low­er-income fourth graders and 66% of all kids are not read­ing pro­fi­cient­ly — a key pre­dic­tor of a student’s future edu­ca­tion­al and eco­nom­ic suc­cess. If this trend con­tin­ues, the coun­try will not have enough skilled work­ers for an increas­ing­ly com­pet­i­tive glob­al econ­o­my by the end of this decade.

Ear­ly Read­ing Pro­fi­cien­cy in the Unit­ed States” finds that two-thirds of all chil­dren are not meet­ing an impor­tant bench­mark: read­ing at grade lev­el at the start of fourth grade. Of even greater con­cern is that the gap between stu­dents from high­er- and low­er-income fam­i­lies is grow­ing wider, with 17%improvement seen among the for­mer group com­pared to only a 6% improve­ment among their low­er-income peers.

Read­ing is crit­i­cal for all chil­dren,” said Ralph Smith, senior vice pres­i­dent of the Casey Foun­da­tion and man­ag­ing direc­tor of the Cam­paign for Grade-Lev­el Read­ing. It is unac­cept­able to have the gap in read­ing pro­fi­cien­cy rates between low- and high-income chil­dren increase by near­ly 20% over the last decade. We must do more to improve read­ing pro­fi­cien­cy among all kids while focus­ing atten­tion on chil­dren in low­er-income fam­i­lies who face addi­tion­al hur­dles of attend­ing schools that have high con­cen­tra­tions of kids liv­ing in poverty.”

The good news is that all but six states have made progress in improv­ing read­ing pro­fi­cien­cy in the last 10 years,” said Lau­ra Speer, asso­ciate direc­tor, Pol­i­cy Advo­ca­cy Reform, of the Casey Foun­da­tion. How­ev­er, more than 50% of kids in every state are not pro­fi­cient read­ers by the time they enter fourth grade. New Mex­i­co and Mis­sis­sip­pi have the worst out­comes (79%) while Mass­a­chu­setts has the best (53%).”

The Foun­da­tion has doc­u­ment­ed in Ear­ly Warn­ing: Why Read­ing by the End of Third Grade Mat­ters” and Ear­ly Warn­ing Con­firmed” the need to focus on read­ing pro­fi­cien­cy by the end of third grade as an essen­tial step toward increas­ing the num­ber of chil­dren who suc­ceed aca­d­e­m­i­cal­ly and do well in life. Research from the reports found that chil­dren who read pro­fi­cient­ly by the end of third grade are more like­ly to grad­u­ate from high school, are less like­ly to fall into pover­ty and are more like­ly to find a job that can ade­quate­ly sup­port their families.

This lat­est data snap­shot com­pares read­ing data from the Nation­al Assess­ment of Edu­ca­tion­al Progress released in Novem­ber 2013 with data tak­en from the assess­ment in 2003 when a major­i­ty of states began par­tic­i­pat­ing. Despite an improve­ment over the last decade in read­ing pro­fi­cien­cy in many states, large dis­par­i­ties per­sist not only among eco­nom­ic class­es, but also in cer­tain racial minori­ties (Black, Hispanic/​Latino, Amer­i­can Indian/​Alaska Native) and their White and Asian peers. Dual lan­guage learn­ers, who are the dri­ving force behind the country’s demo­graph­ic change, are among the least like­ly to hit this impor­tant milestone.

All states need to do what­ev­er it takes to get all kids ─ espe­cial­ly in pop­u­la­tions that are strug­gling ─ on track with this mile­stone,” added Smith. As the nation con­tin­ues to become more racial­ly diverse, the low read­ing-pro­fi­cien­cy scores of chil­dren of col­or are deeply con­cern­ing for the nation’s long-term prosperity.”

Ear­ly Read­ing Pro­fi­cien­cy in the Unit­ed States” rec­om­mends that more must be done to increase read­ing pro­fi­cien­cy for low-income chil­dren so that they can attain eco­nom­ic secu­ri­ty as adults: use results-dri­ven solu­tions to trans­form low-per­form­ing schools into high-qual­i­ty learn­ing envi­ron­ments; make sure that com­mu­ni­ties are sup­port­ed to ensure chil­dren come to school ready, attend school every day and main­tain and expand their learn­ing dur­ing the sum­mer months; and devel­op a sys­tem of ear­ly care and edu­ca­tion that coor­di­nates what chil­dren expe­ri­ence from birth through age eight.

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