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Grade-Level Reading Becomes Urgent Priority in Indiana

December 28, 2011

LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Because schools can't do it alone, seven Indiana cities are among more than 150 across the nation which are making early literacy an urgent priority for 2012.

Two-thirds of U.S. students are not proficient readers as they finish the early grades, statistics show, and research from the Annie E. Casey Foundation finds that once children miss that benchmark, they're far more likely to drop out of school later.

James Taylor, chief executive officer of Greater Lafayette United Way, says that organization is getting tremendous support from businesses and volunteers helping youngsters learn to read.

"We have, at this point in time, about 250 active volunteers going in, one hour a week, to help out in classrooms - about 75 different classrooms in our community."

Ralph Smith, the Casey foundation's senior vice president, is leading the national Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. While investments are needed at the local, state and national levels, he says, additional resources have yet to be tapped.

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

Taylor says the key to success in school is making sure all youngsters learn how to read.

"Up until third grade, you're learning to read - and after that, you're reading to learn. So, if you haven't really mastered reading by the time you leave third grade, you do have this uphill climb that some of the other children are able to move a lot faster because they've mastered their 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 with good readers who never have lived in poverty.

The seven Indiana communities that have joined the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading network are competing for All-America City Awards which recognize quality literacy projects. Details about the awards are online at gradelevelreading.net.

The Casey Foundation report, "Double Jeopardy: How Third-Grade Reading Skills and Poverty Influence High School Graduation," is online at gradelevelreading.net/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/DoubleJeopardyReport040511FINAL.pdf.

Leigh DeNoon, Public News Service - IN