Written by Vicki Viall
According to new KIDS COUNT data, low reading scores for children may mean the country will not have enough skilled workers for an increasingly competitive global economy by the end of this decade.
Data provided by the Annie E. Casey Foundation in the report Early Reading Proficiency in the United States shows that a majority of children in the U.S. are not reading proficiently by the time they reach fourth grade, a predictor of a student’s future educational and economic success.
“Reading is critical for all children,” said Ralph Smith, senior vice president of the Casey Foundation and managing director of the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. “We must do more to improve reading proficiency among all kids while focusing attention on children in lower-income families who face additional hurdles of attending schools that have high concentrations of kids living in poverty.”
The report finds that in Montana 65 percent of children are not reading proficiently upon entering fourth grade and that the proficiency gap between students from higher- and lower-income families shows no signs of closing. Nationwide, that gap actually is growing wider.
According to Thale Dillon, director of Montana KIDS COUNT in the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana, fourth grade is a turning point in a child’s education, and research has shown that when children don’t meet that benchmark, they struggle to graduate from high school and face lower earnings as adults.
“Those successes in future adults don’t just affect the individual, they affect the whole state and even the entire country,” Dillon said.
Should the current trend of low reading-proficiency scores continue, by 2020 the majority of new American workers may be under-prepared to enter a competitive workforce.
The latest data show that the largest disparities in reading proficiency exist not only among economic classes but in certain racial minorities, including American Indian/Alaska Native and Hispanic/Latino children. Dual-language learners, who are the driving force behind the country’s demographic change, are among the least likely to reach proficiency by fourth grade.
“All states need to do whatever it takes to get all kids — especially in populations that are struggling — on track with this milestone,” Smith said. “As the nation continues to become more racially diverse, the low reading-proficiency scores of children of color are deeply concerning for the nation’s long-term prosperity.”
To gauge Roosevelt County’s students compared to natinal averages, guidance was sought from local experts and the Montana OPI Gems Reporting System website was recommended.
While the article above is correct on the fourth grade level, it fails to mention that the proficiency level rises after the fourth grade.
In Wolf Point, the fourth grade reading proficiency level does fall in line with the state level for that group. However, in fifth and successive grades, the proficiency level rises drastically above the levels quoted in the article.
If the nation’s children are in such grave danger, as is insinuated in the article, that level should be dropping, not rising.
If there is cause for concern, it would be with the math and science scores which were not addressed in the report. Reading is tremendously important to anyone’s education and career choice, however, it should also be recognized that math and science are equally important for the success students face in life.
Exception with pigeon-holing students with socio-economic standards could be taken. Based on numbers, one school district in Roosevelt County, whose numbers were compared, did score lower. To a point, that one instance may have some socio-economic factors in play. However, there could be other factors at work as well.
With that thought in mind, the numbers from a school district in North Carolina, were pulled up. It is comprised of three high schools. One is considered affluent and gifted. One, though slightly less affluent, would still be considered privileged in local comparison. The third is comprised of financially challenged students raised in non-English speaking homes making up the majority of the school’s student population. All three schools recorded comparable scores with each other and combined are in the same range as Wolf Point and Frontier.
This report, seemingly, sets children up with a ready-made
excuse to fail. Recognition should be given for the hard work that raises the scores in successive years as well as acknowledgment for how hard our students and teachers are working to ensure success. And, while continuing to gain in reading proficiency, shift more of that focus on the math and science scores.
Additional resources are available in Wolf Point. Wolf Point has an incredible public library that hosts numerous events for children, it also has computers available for students to use outside of school. Older students and organizations, such as RSVP, are able to volunteer to be tutors and mentors for the young readers.
One of the schools has a program called “Read and Respond.” In this program, students are encouraged to read 20 minutes out loud at home. If this isn’t possible, they are given time in the mornings to do so at school. The person listening is also encouraged to respond in writing verifying that the 20 minutes of reading was done with rewards for the students participating.
If a computer is not available at home, the library holds the link to a site that should prove useful to every student. It can be accessed from the library’s website or directly via www.homeworkmt.org. The site has tutors available online Sunday through Thursday from 2 until 11 p.m. However, the site as a source is available 24/7.
For families that have computers at home, this site may be accessed via the direct link. It is a safe environment as background checks are run on all tutors, no personal information is ever shared between student and tutor and many tutors are teachers. Assistance at this site is offered on all subjects and on all levels