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State Ranks 46th in Fourth Grade Reading Proficiency

May 18, 2010

OAKLAND, CA – A new report released today highlights the need to increase the number of children reading at grade level by the end of third grade, a critical academic milestone that can predict whether or not children graduate from high school. According to the KIDS COUNT Special Report, Early Warning! Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters, from The Annie E. Casey Foundation, children’s reading proficiency is central to their school success, life-long earning potential and ability to contribute to the nation’s economy and its security.

California ranks 46th in the nation in fourth grade reading proficiency, with roughly three out of four fourth-graders (76 percent) failing to read at grade level. The state’s high school dropout rate is approaching 20 percent overall, with rates ranging from eight percent for Asian students, 12 percent for white students, 24 percent for Latino students and 33 percent for African American students.  In California, this translates into 98,000 students per class who fail to graduate.

With 6.3 million public K-12 students, California has the largest and most diverse student population in the nation; for example, roughly 40 percent of the state’s kindergartners are designated English learners. The state’s ability to provide every child a high-quality education has impacts for children, the state and the nation. Children’s reading proficiency is central to their school success and their earning potential. It is estimated that each high school dropout costs society $260,000 in lost earnings, taxes and productivity. Moreover, California’s economic vitality, dependent on a skilled and educated workforce, is facing a projected shortfall of one million college graduates by 2025.

“We have to help our industries revitalize California’s economy by ensuring that the state is providing our children with a world class education,” said State Assemblymember Julia Brownley, chair of the Assembly Education Committee. California, with nearly 13 percent of the nation’s children, is integral to the nation’s economy and security.

California schools face many challenges, but none more daunting than the state’s chronic underinvestment in education, which has only been exacerbated by recent cuts.

“California is failing its children,” said Brownley. “The state sets high academic standards for students, but has failed to devote the resources needed to meet those standards.”

California’s educational funding has remained below the national average since the early 80s, with the most recent ranking placing California near the bottom in adjusted per-pupil spending.

To ensure California’s children are able to meet the state’s achievement standards, the state must reinvest in children and schools—improving its education system by putting the supports and services in place to provide all children access to high-quality learning environments.

Ted Lempert, president of Children Now, the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s California grantee, describes what’s needed: “It’s about making sure children are ready for kindergarten, that they are in attendance and ready to learn each day, and that they have the instruction and supports to read proficiently by the end of third grade.”

To this end, California must continue to:

  • Create a high-quality, coordinated early learning system that will allow families to make informed decisions about their children’s early learning experiences.
  • Explore tools, such as a statewide kindergarten readiness observation, that can support the successful transition from early learning to kindergarten.
  • Build on the state’s longitudinal student data system, eventually linking student data from pre-kindergarten to higher education and supporting an infrastructure that is better able to identify and support at-risk students.
  • Elevate the importance of chronic absence as a serious threat to children’s long-term success in school and provide the resources to ensure students are healthy, present and ready to learn.
  • Provide increased learning opportunities through the nation’s largest publicly-funded afterschool infrastructure.

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