Low Reading Scores Show Majority of U.S. Children Not Prepared for Success

Racial, Socio-economic Gaps in Reading Skills Could Set Back U.S. Workforce by 2020

Contact: Tara Manthey
Title: Communications Director
Phone: (720) 256-1312
Email: [email protected]

Low Reading Scores Show Majority of U.S. Children Not Prepared for Success

Racial, Socio-economic Gaps in Reading Skills Could Set Back U.S. Workforce by 2020


1/28/14 12:01 am ET

In its new report, the Annie E. Casey Foundation finds that a large majority of children in the United States are not reading proficiently by the time they reach fourth grade—a key predictor of a student’s future educational and economic success. If this trend continues, the country will not have enough skilled workers for an increasingly competitive global economy by the end of this decade.

In Colorado, a growing number of children are reading proficiently, but the state has one of the widest gaps between low-income and high-income students in the nation—and it’s getting worse.

“It’s good news that more children are reading proficiently by fourth grade, but all kids should be reaching that goal,” said Chris Watney, President and CEO of the Colorado Children’s Campaign. “Ensuring that all children, regardless of family income or location, can read by fourth grade is a focus that we need to maintain. Whether it’s setting our own high standards, encouraging effective educators or better supporting late readers, Colorado has shown commitment to meeting that goal. We can’t lose momentum.”

The report, Early Reading Proficiency in the United States, shows that in Colorado:

  • In 2013, 59 percent of all Colorado fourth graders who took the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scored below proficient in reading, compared to 66 percent nationally. This is an improvement from 2003, when 63 percent of Colorado fourth graders scored below proficient. In 2013, Colorado ranked eighth best among states.
  • Even though Colorado ranks highly overall, we have one of the largest achievement gaps between low-income and high-income students. In 2013, 79 percent of low-income fourth graders scored below proficient in reading, compared to 45 percent of higher-income students—a 34 percentage point gap. In 2013, Colorado had the seventh largest reading achievement gap in the country.
  • Colorado’s achievement gap between low-income and higher-income students is getting worse. Between 2003 and 2013, the gap between these two groups of students grew by 31 percent in Colorado, compared to 19 percent nationally.

While Colorado assesses reading in grades 3 through 10 with the Transitional Colorado Assessment Program (TCAP), NAEP is the largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America’s students know and can do in various subject areas. NAEP randomly assesses students in grades 4, 8 and 12 in reading and gives comparable data across states.

Nationally, Early Reading Proficiency in the United States finds that two-thirds of all children are not reading at grade level at the start of fourth grade. In addition, the gap between students from higher- and lower-income families is growing wider, with 17 percent improvement seen among the former group compared to only a 6 percent improvement among their lower-income peers.

“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. “It is unacceptable to have a gap in reading proficiency rates between low-income and high-income children increase by nearly 20 percent over the last decade. 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 Foundation has documented in Early Warning: Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters and Early Warning Confirmed the need to focus on reading proficiency by the end of third grade as an essential step toward increasing the number of children who succeed academically and do well in life. Research from the reports found that children who read proficiently by the end of third grade are more likely to graduate from high school, are less likely to fall into poverty and are more likely to find a job that can adequately support their families.

“All states need to do whatever it takes to get all kids—especially in populations that are struggling—on track with this milestone,” added Smith. “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.”

Early Reading Proficiency in the United States recommends that more must be done to increase reading proficiency for low-income children so that they can attain economic security as adults: use results-driven solutions to transform low-performing schools into high-quality learning environments; make sure that communities are supported to ensure children come to school ready, attend school every day and maintain and expand their learning during the summer months; and develop a system of early care and education that coordinates what children experience from birth through age eight.


About Colorado Children's Campaign

The Colorado Children’s Campaign is a nonpartisan, nonprofit research and advocacy organization focused on improving the quality of and expanding access to child health, K-12 education and early childhood experiences. For more information, please visit www.coloradokids.org.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation creates a brighter future for the nation’s children by developing solutions to strengthen families, build paths to economic opportunity and transform struggling communities into safer and healthier places to live, work and grow. For more information, visit www.aecf.org.

Early Reading Proficiency in the United States features the latest data for states, the District of Columbia and the nation, as does the Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT Data Center, which is home to comprehensive national, state and local statistics on child well-being. KIDS COUNT® is a registered trademark of the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, launched in May 2010, is a collaborative effort of funders, nonprofit partners, states and more than 140 communities across the nation to ensure that many more children from low-income families succeed in school and graduate prepared for college, a career and active citizenship.

If you would like more information about this topic, please contact Tara Manthey at (720) 256-1312 or email Tara at [email protected].