Ky. reading proficiency rates show growing divide between lower and higher income students

01/28/2014 07:35 PM

Expanding early childhood education and focusing on the health and well-being of younger students could help reverse a growing gap between the reading proficiency scores of low income and upper income students, the director of the Kentucky Youth Advocates said.

A new study by the Kentucky Youth Advocates and the Annie E. Casey Foundation released Tuesday shows 80 percent of low-income students aren’t proficient in reading by the 4th grade in comparison to 49 percent of higher-income students.

Terry Brooks, executive director of the Kentucky Youth Advocates, says the good news about Kentucky’s numbers are on par with the national average, but he says the bad news is that those numbers aren’t very good.

“Kentucky is unique along with maybe a couple other states where low income children are falling further and further behind,” Brooks said (at 1:00).

Brooks also the state’s K-12 education system has become so consumed with what is being taught rather than who is learning that they have lost sight of what is important.

“We as a Commonwealth need to make sure that we are investing in early childhood,” Brooks said (at 4:00). “The second one is for schools and communities to really embrace the fact that a child’s health, the economics of family life, have as much if not more to do with 4th grade reading than any curriculum.”

Brooks said the new data about 4th grade reading levels are troubling and show a need for earlier intervention in education because he says those skills are learned when a child is two or three years old, not in 3rd grade.

“We hear so much conversation in the Kentucky about early childhood and I think folks are finally getting the point that early childhood isn’t some warm fuzzy nebulous feel good experience, it’s really a key building block to make sure when kids enter school they learn to read so that after 4th grade they can read to learn,” Brooks said.

Brooks said some of the ideas presented by Gov. Steve Beshear — such as expanded pre-school and more eligibility for low-income families to access early childhood programs — is necessary to move the state forward in terms of education.

Brooks also emphasized the importance of the proposed increase in SEEK funding which includes a raise for teachers.

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