Racial and socio-economic gaps in reading skills could set back the U.S. workforce by 2020, according to a new report released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The foundation is a private charitable organization dedicated to helping build better futures for disadvantaged children in the United States.
The Early Reading Proficiency in the United States study, published in January 2014, finds a large majority of children are not reading proficiently by the time they reach fourth grade. The foundation reports if this trend continues, the country will not have enough skilled workers for an increasingly competitive global economy.
In Colorado, a growing number of children are reading proficiently, but the state still has one of the widest gaps between low-income and high-income students in the nation. That gap is getting worse, according to the Colorado Children’s Campaign, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization focused on expanding access to K-12 education.
In a prepared statement, Colorado Children’s Campaign president Chris Watney said: “It’s good news that more children are reading proficiently by fourth grade, but all kids should be reaching that goal. Ensuring that all children, regardless of family income or location, can read by fourth grade is a focus that we need to maintain.”
Summit County School District actually reported some of its best standardized scores for 2013 testing — students scored as well or better than the state average on 26 of 27 Transitional Colorado Assessment Program (TCAP) tests. District growth percentiles in reading increased from 2012 and outperformed the state.
But reading still appears to be a concern with younger students, because Summit students scored at or above the state’s proficient and advanced scores in all tests, and in all grades, except third grade reading, which fell below the state percentage proficient and advanced by four percentage points.
In 2013, 59 percent of all Colorado fourth-graders who took the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scored below proficient in reading, compared to 66 percent nationally. This is still an improvement from 2003, when 63 percent of Colorado fourth-graders scored below proficient; in 2013, Colorado ranked eighth-best among states.
However, while Colorado ranks highly overall, the state has one of the largest achievement gaps between low-income and high-income students, according to Colorado Children’s Campaign.
In 2013, 79 percent of low-income fourth-graders scored below proficient in reading, compared to 45 percent of higher-income students — a 34 percentage point gap. In 2013, Colorado had the seventh largest reading achievement gap in the country. Between 2003 and 2013, the gap between low-income and higher-income students grew by 31 percent in Colorado, compared to 19 percent nationally. Summit County includes a diverse population of low-income working class, and middle and upper-middle class residents.
“Whether it’s setting our own high standards, encouraging effective educators or better supporting late readers, Colorado has shown commitment to meeting that goal. We can’t lose momentum,” Watney said.
In Summit County, Silverthorne Elementary showed a 6 percent gain in fifth grade reading from 2012 to 2013. Summit Cove Elementary recorded a 3 percent gain in fourth grade reading, and Upper Blue Elementary gained in all grades in reading. Summit Middle School seventh grade scores in reading were the highest in the last six years, and Dillon Valley Elementary showed proficient and advanced gains in all content, including reading.
Ralph Smith, managing director of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, said reading is critical for all students.
“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,” he said.
While there is no short-term solution, Children’s Campaign Colorado recommends students strive to attend school every day, communities work to develop a system of early care and education and schools work to transform low-performing groups into high-quality learning environments.
“It’s good news that more children are reading proficiently by fourth grade, but all kids should be reaching that goal. Ensuring that all children, regardless of family income or location, can read by fourth grade is a focus that we need to maintain.”
Children’s Campaign president