State fourth-graders reading below grade level

MARQUETTE – According to a newly released snapshot of data gathered as part of the annual Annie E. Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT in 2013, 81 percent of Michigan’s lower-income fourth-graders and 69 percent of all fourth-graders were not reading proficiently, a key predictor of a student’s future educational and economic success.

“With almost half of Michigan’s children living in low-income families, these are truly alarming findings,” said Jane Zehnder-Merrell, Kids Count in Michigan director at the Michigan League for Public Policy, in a news release.

According to numbers released by the foundation, 56 percent of Michigan fourth-graders from higher-income families were proficient in reading.

Family income was determined by measuring students’ eligibility for the National School Lunch Program. Free or reduced-price lunches are offered to students with income below 185 percent of the poverty level.

In comparison to other Great Lakes states, Michigan appeared to be on par.

Minnesota had better numbers, with 77 percent of low-income fourth-graders and 48 percent of higher-income students reading below proficient levels. A total of 59 percent of all fourth-grade students were below proficient levels.

Wisconsin’s numbers were much closer, ringing in at 80 percent of low-income and 53 percent of higher-income fourth-graders reading at proficient levels. Of all the fourth-graders in the state, 65 percent were below proficient.

Nationally, numbers show that 80 percent of lower-income and 49 percent of higher-income fourth-graders are reading below proficient levels. The study showed 66 percent of all fourth-graders nationwide were reading below proficient levels.

According to the news release, Michigan’s spending on K-12 education dropped 20 percent between 2003 and 2013 when adjusted for inflation.

Gov. Rick Snyder has gone on the offensive recently over what he said is “misinformation” concerning education funding during his term as governor, most notably in the State of the State address in which he said K-12 education funding is actually up by $660 per student.

The discrepancy lies in the definition of education funding – Democrats say that should mean dollars flowing into the classroom while Snyder says that should include payments toward pension plans for retired school employees, which is where the $660 he referenced has been heading.

A $65 million investment this fiscal year is also largely aimed at providing access to quality early childhood education programs for children in low-income families.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation released reports titled, “Early Warning: Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters” and “Early Warning Confirmed” that show the need to focus on reading proficiency by the end of third grade as an essential step toward increasing the number of children who succeed academically and do well in life.

Some Michigan lawmakers also put a huge stake in the reading levels of third-graders, introducing a bill last year that would require all third-graders to be proficient in the state’s tests in reading before moving on to fourth grade, with exceptions for students with learning disabilities or students who took alternative tests to the state exam.

House Bill 5111, introduced in October by Rep. Amanda Price, R-Park Township, is still waiting for a House vote.

Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.