Reading before fourth grade matters

Judy Putnam

Children who cannot read by the end of third grade cannot succeed. As they get older, they tend to drop out of school, pushing good-paying jobs beyond their reach. We’re writing the scripts of their lives by the age of 9 and they don’t have happy endings.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s new national KIDS COUNT report, Early Warning! Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters is out today, and it’s a must-read reminder about the importance of reading by the end of third grade.

The report’s major message is that children are learning to read until the ages of 8 and 9. After that they read to learn. Children without that essential skill quickly fall behind.

Michigan does not look good in this report. We rank 34th among the states on reading proficiency among fourth-graders as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. That’s a rigorous test given in each state to a sample of students. 

In Michigan, 70 percent of fourth-graders tested were not considered proficient. That compares with 68 percent nationally. In addition to average scores, we have large huge gaps by race and income. 

Michigan, Wisconsin and Louisiana had the worst ranking in the country among African American students with 91 percent not considered proficient in reading. In Michigan 64 percent of white students are not proficient.

Another large gap is the difference based on income. Among low-income fourth-graders, 85 percent were not proficient. Among higher-income peers, only 60 percent were not proficient.

Early childhood opportunities, good health, safe communities, good schools and teachers, quality child care, parents and grandparents reading aloud often to young children, early intervention for children with delays and good school attendance all play a role. For advocates interested in rewriting the story of the cycle of poverty, these early years offer the place to do that.

— Judy Putnam


One Response to Reading before fourth grade matters

  1. byron says:

    Yes! These facts are startling. I agree that the cycle of poverty starts here and needs to be stopped. Recent stats, some of which were highlighted in this KIDS COUNT report, have really pulled at our heart strings over here at The Caring Source (a Detroit-based non-profit dedicated to providing easier access to fundamental needs and services). It’s moved us to place even more emphasis on our Read Away! Write Away! program (RAWA).

    The report recommends that we “Encourage and enable parents, families, and caregivers to play their
    indispensable roles as co-producers of good outcomes for their children.” And we’ve decided that we haven’t any time to waste!

    In fact, this year’s RAWA Challenge will focus on helping parents and caregivers. We will host special breakout sessions to educate and enable them to do their part in improving their children’s reading and writing skills.

    In order to make this a true success we’ll need some help from other community experts. So, please feel free to contact me at 586.925.9250 0r to offer suggestions or support of this upcoming event!

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