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Reading Proficiency Low for Many Arkansas 4th Graders

Study says 68 percent of them are reading below their grade level.
LITTLE ROCK, AR (News release) - Nearly seven out of ten Arkansas fourth graders do not read at a proficient level, according to a new study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

According to “Early Reading Proficiency in the United States,” 68 percent of Arkansas fourth grade students do not read proficiently. That number is down from 72 percent in 2003. The Arkansas number is higher than the national average of 66 percent. Reading proficiently by the fourth grade is a key predictor of a student’s future educational and economic success. If these downward trends continue in the U.S. and Arkansas, the country will not have enough skilled workers for an increasingly competitive global economy by the end of this decade.

There is an achievement gap between students from families with higher incomes and those with lower incomes. While just over half (54 percent) of higher-income 4th graders cannot read proficiently, almost four in five (78 percent) low-income 4th graders cannot. The gap between the two groups has increased from 19 percent in 2003 to 24 percent in 2013.    

“Research shows that a student’s ability to read at grade-level by the end of third grade is one of the most important predictors of school success and high school graduation,” says Rich Huddleston, executive director of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families (AACF)*.

AACF is part of the Arkansas Campaign for Grade-Level Reading**. The campaign’s goal is that by 2020, all Arkansas children will read at grade level by the end of third grade. The campaign focuses on four areas: school readiness, chronic absence, summer learning loss, and parent and community engagement.
“School readiness is key,” says Huddleston. “What we’re really talking about is early childhood education, like pre-K. Arkansas has done a good job of making pre-K available, but there’s a waiting list now and the state has not increased pre-K funding in six years. That has to change, because we know pre-K is very effective in closing that achievement gap and goes a long way toward making sure kids read at grade-level by the time they’re in fourth grade.”

Aside from investments in pre-K, Huddleston says Arkansas should also look to after-school and summer activities that keep children engaged. After-school programs are critical to reducing summer learning loss, another key focus of the Arkansas Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. 

*Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families is a statewide, non-profit child advocacy organization established in 1977. Our mission is to ensure that all children and their families have the resources and opportunities to lead healthy and productive lives and to realize their full potential.

**The Arkansas Campaign for Grade-Level Reading is part of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, a collaborative effort by foundations, nonprofit partners, states and communities across the nation to: close the gap in reading achievement that separates many low-income students from their peers; raise the bar for reading proficiency so that all students are assessed by world-class standards; and ensure that all children, including and especially children from low-income families, have an equitable opportunity to meet those higher standards. 

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