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Report: Majority of CO Fourth-Graders Don't Read at Grade Level

January 29, 2014

DENVER - More than half of the children in Colorado aren't reading at grade level by the time they're starting fourth grade, which a new report calls a key indicator that they will struggle later in school and in life.

According to the new Annie E. Casey Foundation report, 59 percent of Colorado fourth-graders aren't proficient in reading. That's a little better than the national average of 66 percent, but Sarah Hughes, research director for the Colorado Children's Campaign, said it pinpoints serious problems that reach beyond the classroom.

"The statewide average really doesn't tell the whole story," she said. "When it come to things like education and health, we often see really large differences in how kids are doing based on their family's income, or based on their race and ethnicity."

The Casey Foundation also found a large disparity between kids of different racial backgrounds - with 83 percent of black children not reading at grade level, compared with 55 percent of their white counterparts.

In addition to race, family income level also makes a difference. Researchers found that 79-percent of low-income children in Colorado lacked reading proficiency by fourth grade, compared with 45 percent of higher-income children. Elizabeth Burke Bryant, senior consultant at the Casey Foundation's Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.
says there's still work to be done in Colorado and nationwide.

"We are showing some success with fourth-grade reading proficiency improving," she said, "and now we have to finish the job and make sure that all children are reading proficiently by the end of third grade."

Expanding Colorado's early-childhood education program is one way the state could see greater improvement in this area, Hughes said.

"The No. 1 thing that I think we could do is really, starting early - starting with early childhood education - because if we wait until fourth grade, when we see that these kids aren't reading proficiently, the odds of them catching up at that point are going to be pretty low."

The report recommended more funding for early-childhood education, and also support for low-income families, such as preventive health care so that kids stay healthy and keep their attendance up at school.

The Casey Foundation report, "Early Reading Proficiency in the United States," is online at aecf.org.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - CO