Reading proficiency among AL 4th graders on the rise, study shows

(Source: WSFA 12 News file photo)
(Source: WSFA 12 News file photo)
Updated: Jun. 28, 2018 at 6:15 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The number of fourth-graders proficient in reading in Alabama has improved. Reading proficiency can eventually help lead to children escaping poverty, according to the 2018 KIDS COUNT Data Book report.

Overall, the study shows Alabama climbing to its highest ranking yet- 42. This report lists the latest rankings in education, family and community, health and economic well-being. It is released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation every year.

The study lists fourth-graders not proficient in reading at 69 percent in 2016, which is a 3 percent improvement from 2009. The national average is at 65 percent.

Reading proficiency in third grade is a "critical marker" in a child's educational development.

According to Polly McClure, the statewide coordinator for Reach Out and Read, students have to learn to read before the fourth grade.

"If you don't learn to read by the time you're in the fourth grade, you're going to miss out on a lot of really important things that you need to know to be successful in school, to graduate on time," McClure said.

According to Rhonda Mann, the interim executive director for VOICES for Alabama Children, making sure children have the best opportunities to succeed in school is a great way to move children out of poverty.

But she said preparing kids to read in the fourth grade includes starting early with pre-k education. Mann said children in a pre-k program have higher reading skills in third grade than those not participating in pre-k.

"We're seeing that very positive impact on educational achievement throughout the entire elementary school," Mann said.

The report said people in poor areas continue to be left out of the federal Head Start program and other state-funded programs.

However, Gov. Kay Ivey announced in April the addition of 107 more voluntary First Class Pre-k classrooms in 33 different counties for the 2018-19 school year.

The Department of Early Childhood Education said that state-funded programs, like First Class Pre-K, have a competitive application process. The department looks at factors such as need, accessibility and possible issues with the Department of Human Resources to decide which schools can have the program.

The number of kids in the First Class Pre-K programs has been steadily increasing over the last year few years. The department anticipates 18,702 to be enrolled in the program.

"Children are learning to read through third grade, starting in fourth grade they are reading to learn, so it's a big difference," Mann said.

The report said kids having the ability to read by fourth grade allows them to keep up academically. This can eventually lead them to stay in school and increases the chance for them to succeed as adults.

"If they cannot read on grade level and they are not comprehending what they read, they are going to get behind very quickly, and their chances to succeed are going to diminish," Mann said.

According to McClure, being behind can be embarrassing and and can lead to bullying and emotional problems, but proficiency in reading can give students an advantage.

"Because all the things that you need to know to be successful in school, you are going to learn after fourth grade," said McClure. "So if you know how to read and read proficiently by fourth grade, you are already on step ahead in success in life."

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