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Tuesday
Jul 29th

Poverty puts struggling readers in double jeopardy: A new study reveals

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A longitudinal study by Donald J. Hernandez, released recently at the national Education Writers Association conference in New Orleans, confirms the link between third grade scores and high school graduation and, for the first time, breaks down the likelihood of graduation by different reading skill levels and poverty experiences.

Students who don’t read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to leave high school without a diploma than proficient readers the study found.

Poverty compounds the problem as the study says that students who have lived in poverty are three times more likely to drop out or fail to graduate on time than their more affluent peers; if they read poorly, too, the rate is six times greater than that for all proficient readers. Poverty troubles even the best readers: Proficient third graders who have lived in poverty graduate at about the same rate as subpar readers who have never been poor.

For black and Latino students, the combined effect of poverty and poor third grade reading skills makes the rate eight times greater.

“We will never close the achievement gap, we will never solve our dropout crisis, we will never break the cycle of poverty that afflicts so many children if we don’t make sure that all our students learn to read,” said Ralph Smith, executive vice president of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which commissioned the report, Double Jeopardy: How Poverty & Third-Grade Reading Skills Influence High School Graduation. “This research confirms the compelling need to address the underlying issues that keep children from reading.”

 “These findings suggest we need to work in three areas: improving the schools where these children are learning to read, helping the families weighed down by poverty and encouraging better federal, state and local policy to improve the lot of both schools and families,” said Hernandez, a sociology professor at Hunter College and the Graduate Center, City University and a senior advisor to the Foundation for Child Development.

The report recommends aligning quality early education programs with the curriculum and standards in the primary grades; paying better attention to health and developmental needs of young children; and providing work training and other programs that will help lift families out of poverty.

Nationally, two thirds of students are not reading on grade level by the fourth grade, the earliest year of testing in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). That proportion rises to four-fifths for low-income children, according to NAEP results released last year. A previous Casey report provides a state-by-state breakdown of fourth-graders who weren’t reading on grade level.  

In addition to the Casey Foundation, the research was conducted with support from the Center for Demographic Analysis at the University of Albany and the Foundation for Child Development and the guidance of the staff of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth.

For more information on Annie E. Casey Foundation and the report visit http://www.aecf.org/

 

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