Addressing a critical need
Approximately 61% of low-income families do not have a single piece of reading material suitable for a child in the home. In Georgia, a third of our children begin school unprepared to learn and 75% of students who are poor readers in the third grade will remain poor readers in high school. The 2022 Georgia Millstone State report shows that 44% Reading Scores for 4th graders are below grade level, while 30% of 8th graders are below reading level. Since 2019 the reading levels of proficiency in 4th grade have decreased from 64% to 56%. The percentage of high school students reading proficiently went from 74% in 2019 to 69% in 2022. *
There has been some improvement in Georgia since 2006. In 2006 Georgia ranked 46th in SAT scores in the nation. In 2022 that rose to 27th!** Literacy in Georgia has improved 10% since 2003 bringing its ranking to 26th nationwide for reading proficiency. However that still leaves 75% of students from lower income households not reading proficiently. ***
Teaching children to read is often seen as the sole responsibility of our nation’s schools - for the most part, children’s success or failure in reading is seen as a function of the quality of their elementary education. However, most kindergarten teachers would strongly disagree with these assumptions. Their experience reveals marked differences among children in their ability to learn, their familiarity with books and language, and their confidence level. In short, long before a child has experienced formalized education, there are already children far ahead of the curve and even more lagging far behind. In a 1991 (Boyer) study, kindergarten teachers reported that 35% of the children arrive at school unprepared to learn. Playing “catch up” is a very difficult position both for the child and the teacher.
To address this problem, the key is to start at birth. To immerse a child in a literacy environment can be a stronger predictor of literacy and academic achievement than family income. The more words a child hears, the larger the child’s vocabulary, and the larger the child’s vocabulary, the more likely the child will be a proficient reader. However, in order to read with a child, books must be in the home. In a 1991 study by Needlman, parents given books by their doctor were four times more likely to read and share books with their children. This rate increased to eight times more likely with lower income parents. It is also important to examine the consequences of failing to build an adequate foundation for reading. The most stunning revelation is just how difficult it is to become a proficient reader if a child is trapped by initial difficulty. In a 1988 study, Juel found “…that 88% of children who have difficulty reading at the end of first grade display similar difficulties at the end of fourth grade.” Researchers at Yale discovered a similar trend. In their 1997 study, “…75% of students who are poor readers in the third grade will remain poor readers in high school.”
Ferst Readers cannot address all the issues of early literacy; however, we can eliminate one of the key reasons why parents do not read to their child - the availability of quality books in the home. Books delivered not just once, but 60 times in the child’s critical years of development.
*Milestones Georgia 2022 Report
**CollegeBoard 2022 Georgia SAT Suite of Assessments Annual Report