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Literacy Statistics

Geoff Nixon

By Geoff Nixon

Reading Proficiency Facts in North America

Success in life begins with reading. But, did you know that:

  • Four out of ten children will fail to meet basic reading ability standards without extra reading help?

  • Six out of ten will not meet “proficiency” without help?

One interesting aspect of reading is that the statistics for literacy proficiency and the definition of reading proficiency change through the grades. In K-2, reading proficiency refers to the ability to recognize and decode words and to read for literal comprehension. In later grades though, “proficiency” requires interpretation, finding themes, and thinking critically.

Sadly, many children fail to become proficient readers — they are under so much pressure to keep up with the curriculum content that they never really master the basics of reading — effortless decoding and strong working memory. These basic skills are needed for reading to be an “automatic”, background brain activity that frees up brain capacity for higher level comprehension. For many of these children reading is a chore throughout their school careers and sadly, they never learn to read for enjoyment.

Literacy statistics and studies show that without a doubt, beginning early is the key to successful reading. This is how the American Federation of Teachers sees reading proficiency:

“If children do not master [reading] skills in their first three years of school, they are certain to encounter difficulties throughout their schooling. Reading comprehension software can help but it is hard to overcome a slow start in reading. And when they leave school, they enter the working world lacking the skills they need to find a job, develop financial independence, and take their places as citizens, parents and workers.”

Because the stakes are so high, it is impossible to overstate the importance of appropriate reading instruction, which combines phonics instruction with rich literature environments and opportunities to write. Those who learn to read with ease in the early grades have a foundation on which to build new knowledge. Those who do not are doomed to repeated cycles of frustration and failure.”

If you are slow learning your sounds in K-1st grade, you will be slow to learn to decode in 2nd grade, slow to read for (literal) comprehension in 3rd grade and slow to learn to think critically about text in later grades. It’s a trend, left unattended, that can continue through out life.

Quotes & Statistics From Leading Literacy Experts

“One-third to 40 percent of each class is going to need special help.”
Sally Shaywitz, M.D., “On the Mind of a Child”, Educational Leadership, April 2003

“Unfortunately, it appears that for about 60% of our nation’s youngsters, learning to read is a formidable challenge, and for at least 20% to 30% of these youngsters, reading is one of the most difficult tasks that they will have to master throughout their schooling.  Why is this so unfortunate?  Simply because if you do not learn to read and you live in America, you do not make it in life.”
Reid Lyon, Ph.D., Director – National Institutes of Health

“Learning to read is not a ‘natural’ process. Most children must be taught to read through a structural protracted process in which they are made aware of sounds and the symbols that represent them, and they learn to apply these skills automatically and attend to meaning. If you do not learn to read and you live in America, you do not make it in life.”
Louisa Cook Moats, “Whole Language Lives On: The Illusion of ‘Balanced’ Reading Instruction.,” Fordham Foundation

Reading problems cut across virtually every social, geographic and cultural boundary.
The NAEP (National Association for Early Prevention) reported that nearly 32% of fourth-graders whose parents graduated from college are reading below the basic level. These results indicate that every school in this country has a number of children who are failing the task of learning to read.

It is vitally important to engage your child in structured reading help as early as possible, and to get appropriate help if areas for improvement are identified.

The longer early readers are allowed to fall behind, the greater the gap in their skills. Help in the early years is the key to getting a child off on the right path.

But there’s good news — it does not have to be this way!   Whether they struggle from the outset in Kindergarten or develop reading comprehension issues in later grades, reading is a learned skill, it is not part of a child’s hard-wiring.  You can change the way your child reads.

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