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New Fourth-Grade Reading Report: SD Kids Lag Behind

January 29, 2014

VERMILLION, S.D. - Reading scores for South Dakota's fourth-graders have gone down slightly over the last 10 years, according to a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The results also showed that lower-income students are falling further behind. Carole Cochran, director of South Dakota Kids Count, said these declining scores are not good news for students - in school or in life.

"If we want to have a ready-to-work workforce, if we want people to become part of the society, to become active members, that all starts with reading," she said. "Up to grade 3, you learn to read, and after that you're reading to learn - and so it's real important in those early grades to get those fundamentals."

The report said 68 percent of South Dakota fourth-graders were not proficient in reading in 2013, compared with 67 percent in 2003 - not a large change, but an indication of an overall lack of progress. The report compared scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, used in schools across the nation.

Despite all the attention paid to the education kids get in school, Cochran said reading fundamentals can be taught at home too.

"I think reading also is at home," she said, "having parents read to kids, having conversations with your children, building up vocabulary. It's not just the schools, it's every place you go, to have reading."

The report also found the gap between lower-income and higher-income students continues to widen. That gap has grown by 20 percent since 2003. To Cochran, it shows that more investment is needed in younger children.

"Investing those first eight years is really critical for children to succeed, both in life and in school," she said. "Those good results are going to have payoff for our state and our country's competitive workforce, our military readiness - and really, the economic stability and strength of our state and of our country."

While there are multiple paths to success in life, Cochran said, they all need a strong foundation, which starts with being able to read.

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

Jerry Oster, Public News Service - SD