MISSOULA – 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.
The data, provided by the Annie E. Casey Foundation in the report “Early Reading Proficiency in the United States,” finds that a majority of children in the U.S., including in Montana, are not reading proficiently by the time they reach fourth grade, which is a key 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.”