Learning to Read Critical to Economic Sustainability in Adulthood

According to a 2014 Annie E. Casey  Foundation report, large disparities exist related to fourth-grade student reading assessment results.  National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores show 80% of lower income students read below proficient levels.  In order to graduate high school with the skills, knowledge and dispositions needed to find and maintain a job a student must not only learn to read but use reading to learn other subjects.

Ask most business representatives and they will tell you that they have up to thousands of entry-level jobs that can't be filled due to a lack of skilled workers.  When they do find employees it's only after months of hunting for the right candidate.  "Companies all over are having a difficult time recruiting the kind of people they're looking for," said Robert Funk, chairman and CEO of Express Employment Professionals, a national staffing firm based in Oklahoma City.  "There is higher demand for skilled jobs and less demand for unskilled positions than we've seen coming out of past recessions," Mr. Funk said.  

Earlier this year the Casey Foundation released two reports - Early Warning:  Why Reading by the end of Third Grade Matters and Early Warning Confirmed .  Both show that a vital educational point hits at the end of third grade when students must be proficient in reading and know how to transition into using reading skills to acquire content in other subjects.  Their research shows that students reading proficiently by this time are more liely to graduate from high school and be economically successful in adulthood.

NAEP data shows the prominent disparity and the U.S. is not closing gaps to match proficiency levels with all students.  The most recent scores show that 80 percent of low-income fourth graders and 66 percent of all fourth graders are not proficient in reading abilities.  Estimates have noted that, by 2020, a shortage of 1.5 million workers with college degrees is likely in the United States.  However, there will be 6 million people not holding even a high school diploma and unemployed due to their lack of basic skills and credentials.

Casey's research notes the percentage of fourth-grade students reading below proficient levels in 2013 include:

  • 55% of white students;
  • 83% of black students;
  • 81% of Hispanic/Latino students;
  • 49% of Asian/Pacific Islander students;
  • 78% of American Indian/Alaska Native students; and
  • 61% of students who note they are two or more races.


​For subpopulations,

  • 80% of lower income students are below proficiency compared to 40% of higher income students;
  • 93% of dual-language learners are below proficiency compared to 63% of non dual-language learners;
  • 89% of students with disabilities are below proficiency compared to 63% of students without disabilities; and
  • 76% of students enrolled at a high-poverty school are below proficiency compared to 50% of those enrolled in a non high-poverty school.

​Despite improvements in educational reform over the past decade, large achievement gaps remain.  Schools and policymakers must work together to provide the opportunity for innovation and flexibility at the local level to transform even the lowest-performing schools to produce proficient graduates.