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4th-Grade Reading Gap Follows Arizona Income Gap

PHOTO: A new study finds more than 7-in-10 of Arizona 4th-graders are reading below grade level, and the reading gap between high- and low-income students is growing. CREDIT: publicdomainpictures.net
January 28. 2014
PHOTO: A new study finds more than 7-in-10 of Arizona 4th-graders are reading below grade level, and the reading gap between high- and low-income students is growing. CREDIT: publicdomainpictures.net

PHOENIX - Seventy-two percent of Arizona fourth-graders are reading below grade level. That's one finding of a new Kids Count Data Snapshot from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. According to the Foundation's senior consultant Elizabeth Burke Bryant, one key to success in life is learning to read in the early grades.

"Up until third grade, they're learning to read," she said. "After third grade, it's expected that they know how to read in order to absorb the material."

Although Arizona fourth-grade reading levels have improved over the past decade, the reading gap between higher- and lower-income pupils is getting worse. The report finds that 43 percent of Arizona's higher-income fourth-graders are reading at or above grade level, compared to only 15 percent of lower-income kids.

Children's Action Alliance research associate Joshua Oehler said the best way to start reversing the income-related reading gap would be to restore funding to a number of programs cut during the recession.

"The Healthy Families, child care subsidy, Early Childhood Block Grant, all of those things help low-income families," he said.

The report says low-income children fare even worse when they attend economically-disadvantaged schools. Arizona lawmakers have cut education funding by 17 percent since 2008, the third-most of any state.

The Casey Foundation report also found widening gaps in reading achievement along racial lines, with African-American, Latino and Native American students posting the lowest scores. Oehler said the findings have implications for Arizona's economic future.

"We've got to make sure all children, regardless of race or income status, are getting the support they need to read, so we can have a good work force and attract businesses and start new businesses here in Arizona," he stated.

The report says the first eight years of a child's life are critical for future learning and emotional development.

The report is at AECF.org.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ