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AZ's Reading Woes Are Holding Everything Back

College & Career Readiness, Early Childhood Education, School Funding | 03/31/2017

Rebecca Gau
Stand for Children Arizona Executive Director

You might think that all 3rd graders who can’t read get held back a year. After all, the state program “Move On When Reading”, by its very name, is supposed to pinpoint the children who need more help, and hold them back until they can read well enough to learn while they do it. But the reading problems in Arizona are so big, the actual numbers are frightening.

Currently, there are 88,747 third graders in Arizona. 60% of them fail the English Language Arts portion of their AzMerit exam. That’s 53,248 students!  The number of 3rd graders who don’t pass the reading exam in Arizona would FILL every seat of Chase Field, with nearly 5 thousand kids still waiting in line outside!  

We couldn’t hold that many children back. It would swamp the whole system.

So only about the bottom 5% of the test scores, specifically on one reading section, are slated to repeat 3rd grade.  In fact, the number is usually around 1,500 students that actually get held back. The rest of the Chase Field crowd of kids move on, hopefully to figure it out before it’s too late.

Sadly, we already know that many of them don’t. Children who can’t pass their reading proficiency tests at the end of third grade are 4 times less likely to graduate high school. Maybe, just maybe, that’s why Arizona’s High School graduation rates are 6% lower than the national average.

In a poll conducted by Stand for Children Arizona last December, 70% of Arizonans surveyed said they would be more likely to vote for a sales tax increase to provide additional funding for public schools, specifically after hearing about our state’s poor 3rd grade reading scores.

Governor Ducey has the right idea in his budget proposal, devoting $10 mil for early literacy. We are thrilled that he wants to concentrate that money to schools whose students come from low income families. But $10 million is simply not enough to make the difference that our state desperately needs, and our children definitely deserve.

Stand for Children Arizona is calling for the amount of money devoted to early literacy in the Governor’s budget this year to double to $20 mil. On top of the increase in funds, we are supporting efforts in the legislature that would streamline that money to make Move On When Reading less bureaucratic and more accountable. To put it more plainly, it would finally target the kids who need the most help with their reading skills.

We already know illiteracy costs businesses and taxpayers $20 billion every year across the country. If we really want to improve education in Arizona, if we really want to improve Arizona’s economy, this is where we need to start.  

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