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Report: Early Reading Proficiency Lags in Kentucky

PHOTO: A new report finds almost two-thirds of Kentucky's children are not proficient in reading at grade level when they enter fourth grade. Photo courtesy Kentucky Youth Advocates.
PHOTO: A new report finds almost two-thirds of Kentucky's children are not proficient in reading at grade level when they enter fourth grade. Photo courtesy Kentucky Youth Advocates.
January 28, 2014

JEFFERSONTOWN, Ky. - Nearly two-thirds of Kentucky's kids are not reading at grade level when they reach fourth grade, a key warning sign that they may struggle to achieve economic success as adults. The "Kids Count" report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation finds that 64 percent of the state's children are not meeting that important educational benchmark.

According to reading researcher Robert Cooter, when pupils are behind at that age, it's a lot tougher for them to catch up.

"The problem kind of cascades downhill and contributes to dropout rates later on, and lack of success in middle school and high school," he warned.

The report says Kentucky is one of only 12 states where the reading proficiency gap between children from higher-income and lower-income families has widened by more than 30 percent over the past ten years.

Cooter, who is dean of the Bellarmine University School of Education, said the most important thing lawmakers can do is have what he calls the "political courage" to fund universal preschool.

"If we wait until kindergarten to try to build that vocabulary, it's an uphill climb all the way,", he said, and added that "from a conservative standpoint, it makes huge sense to invest in children early."

Terry Brooks, the executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, said he sees hope in the governor's budget proposal for the next two years. It includes restoring cuts made to child care assistance and expanding income eligibility for preschool. However, Brooks said, the state also has to pay more attention to health and family well-being.

"We've got to think about how kids come to school," he declared. "If low-income kids continue to come to school hungry or suffering from poor health, or in family situations that are far more chaotic than they need to be, they are not going to be attuned to that reading lesson."

Brooks said he believes a state Earned Income Credit is one way to help families get on track financially, which in turn will help their kids get on track academically.

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

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY