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Report: Majority of NC Fourth Graders Reading Below Grade Level

January 28, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. – Imagine tackling fourth grade without proficiency in the most basic of skills – reading.

That's what 65 percent of North Carolina's fourth graders is experiencing, according to a report released today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Rob Thompson, director of communications and network for NC Child, says one predictor of reading proficiency is adequate early childhood education.

"What are we doing in the earliest years of a child's life?” he questions. “Do we have a sufficient and strong early education system?

“We've got the structure for one, but we've been pulling resources away from it for the past several years."

North Carolina's nationally recognized pre-kindergarten and early childhood education programs were cut by 20 percent in the 2011-13 state budget.

More than 17,000 North Carolina children are eligible for child care subsidies but do not receive them because of the underfunded program.

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

Elizabeth Burke Bryant, senior consultant at the Casey Foundation's Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, says those disparities impact children for the rest of their academic life and beyond.

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

In addition to race, family income level also makes a difference.

Researchers found that 78 percent of low-income children in North Carolina lacked proficiency by fourth grade, compared with 47 percent of higher-income children.

Thompson says alleviating the high number of children living in poverty has to be one of the state's solutions.

"We know that children who grow up in poverty have poor outcomes in a number of ways,” she stresses. “Reading is one of those, so we have to look at addressing poverty if we really want to address these reading levels."

The Annie E. Casey report recommends greater support for low-income families in the form of early childhood education funding and also preventive health coverage to make sure children are physically healthy so they can attend every school day.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC