We know that grade-level reading is critical to student success and students who are unsuccessful in making the transition from learning to read to reading to learn are likely to continue to experience challenges throughout their school years and beyond.
In 2012, only 36% of Nebraska 4th graders and 35% of Nebraska 8th graders were proficient or better in reading. In addition, family income is a strong predictor of reading proficiency and 79% of Nebraska students in both grades 4 and 8 who scored basic or below on reading tests were low-income.
In a new KIDS COUNT® data snapshot from the Annie E. Casey Foundation shows that Nebraska’s reading statistics are consistent with the nation as a whole. The data snapshot shows that 80 percent of lower-income fourth graders and 66 percent 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.
Today, Voices for Children is testifying neutrally on LB 952, introduced by Senator Lautenbaugh. We support Senator Lautenbaugh’s goal of addressing grade-level reading as well as some portions of the bill, but have concerns about retaining third grade students because of test scores. We discuss our concerns and recommendations for improvement in our written testimony.
We know that when it comes to reading, interventions starting in Kindergarten are starting too late. Effective interventions for reading proficiency should start with access to quality early childhood programs where they are the most cost-effective and will have the most impact. We also have to recognize that many of the challenges related to grade-level reading are related to poverty. We should maximize the use of available community, state, and federal resources for schools that help children come to school ready to learn. Effective interventions that impact student achievement include increased access to federal school nutrition programs, summer reading programs available through public libraries, and school-based health centers that help ensure that access to medical care isn’t a barrier to attendance.
The data show there is still a ways to go in making sure all Nebraska children are reading at grade level and on-time and we are looking forward to the continuing debate this legislative session.