Sixty-five percent of students in North Carolina are not reading at grade level by the time they reach fourth grade, according to the latest KIDS COUNT data snapshot.
The data report shows large disparities between lower and higher-income households. Lower-income students tend to struggle more, as 78 percent are not reading proficiently by the end of third grade, compared to the 48 percent of students from higher-income families.
Laila Bell, director of research and data at NC Child, says the findings are significant because reading proficiency in third-grade is a key predictor of educational success.
“When children are behind on reading in fourth grade it means they don't have the strong foundation that they need in order to be able to use those skills to acquire more complex skills as they age,” Bell says.
The report pulls data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exams, which differ from North Carolina's End of Grade tests that found 55% of children could not read proficiently at the end of third grade in 2013.
State lawmakers have long wrestled with ways to improve third grade reading. The state’s Read to Achieve program, which was passed in July 2012 as part of the North Carolina Excellence in Public Schools Act, takes into effect this year.
With the goal of ensuring that every student can read at or above grade level by the end of third grade, the program requires struggling readers to retake the end-of-grade test if they don’t pass. If they fail a second time, students can get an exemption or enroll in a summer reading program.
Bell argues that the state needs to develop new policies that focus on prevention, rather than retention.
“It’s important that we make sure children born into low-income communities have complete access to the resources they need in order to meet all of the critical developmental milestones that help contribute to academic success,” she says.
The low reading scores are not specific to North Carolina. More than 50 percent of students in every state are not proficient readers by the time they enter fourth grade, according to the KIDS COUNT data.
KIDS COUNT is a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation "to track the well-being of children in the United States."