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Grade-Level Reading Gets a 2012 Push in Oregon

December 5, 2011

EUGENE, Ore. - Schools can't do it alone, and that's why more than 150 cities and counties have pledged to make early literacy an urgent priority for 2012. In Oregon, Eugene, Portland and Wallowa County have signed up for the challenge.

National studies say two-thirds of U.S. students are not proficient readers as they finish the early grades, and Connie Bennett, library services director for the Eugene Public Library, explains why it's important that they start young.

"Up to the age of third grade, kids are learning to read. After third grade, they have to have that skill in order to learn what else they need in life. So, it's just so clearly shown by the research that it's really worth putting a lot of emphasis in this area."

Research from the Annie E. Casey Foundation shows once children miss that third-grade reading benchmark, they're far more likely to drop out of school later. The communities have joined the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading network and are competing for All-America City Awards that recognize quality literacy projects.

Ralph Smith is leading the "Campaign for Grade-Level Reading" nationally for the Annie E. Casey Foundation, where he is senior vice-president. He sees plenty of places where creative reading opportunities can be tapped.

"Recreation centers, churches and congregations, libraries, and athletic programs: communities can create literacy-rich programs."

Just as with musicians or athletes, it takes practice for readers to improve. Connie Bennett hopes people buying holiday gifts for children, no matter how young, don't forget the books, and plan to enjoy them together.

"A big piece is talking to kids, singing with kids, saying a nursery rhyme, letting them hear language patterns. It can be a positive interaction between a parent and child, as well as helping build these skills that are the basis of reading."

A Casey Foundation report shows that poor children who don't read proficiently are 13 times more likely not to finish high school, compared to good readers who have never lived in poverty.

Details on the All-America City Awards are online at ht.ly/7GpXQ.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation report, "Double Jeopardy: How Third-Grade Reading Skills and Poverty Influence High School Graduation," is at ht.ly/7GpVa.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR