Is there a reading crisis in Arizona?

College & Career Readiness | 06/06/2018

Rebecca Gau
Stand for Children Arizona Executive Director

Learning to read is one the most important skills we can teach our students in today’s economy, and reading on grade level by the end of third grade is perhaps the single most essential educational milestone. Here’s why: at fourth grade, the school curriculum shifts, requiring students to "read to learn," which causes students who have not "learned to read" to fall further behind.

Not only are students who can’t read at grade-level likely to fall behind, studies also show that third-grade reading ability is one of the strongest predictors for a student’s future academic performance. Low literacy rates also cost businesses and taxpayers $20 billion every year across the country. If we really want to improve education in Arizona, and in turn Arizona’s economy, this is where we need to start.

Our ultimate goal is for 100% of students to be reading on grade level. However, public education groups and supporters have created a Progress Meter to break down that ultimate goal into attainable milestones. The goal right now is for 72% of our 3rd graders to read proficiently by 2030, however, we are currently at only 44%.

How severe is the reading crisis?

Pareto’s principle states that roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. This also happens to be the case when it comes to the reading crisis numbers, and the data below illustrates how severe the problem is.

The chart above shows the percent of schools in Arizona compared to the percentage of their students failing to pass the 2017 statewide reading test. Looking at the far-left bar on the chart, 3% of Arizona schools have 90% or more of their students failing the exam. Adding up all schools with over 70% of students failing shows that almost one-third of all schools in Arizona have over two-thirds of their third-grade students failing to pass.

What can we do about it?

As we mentioned in the previous post about questions to ask candidate this election cycle, literacy intervention is a key topic that is important to address.

First, determine which legislative district you reside in and who your lawmakers are. You can use this easy tool.

Second, look at this spreadsheet to identify the percentage of students failing to pass the statewide reading exam in your district.

Finally, ask your lawmakers what they plan to do about it.

Final thoughts

We know this crisis isn’t going to go away if we just choose to ignore it. We need real action to turn things around.

Low reading rates present a major obstacle for the academic achievement of students and a significant problem for the future economic success. In the last couple of years we’ve made some progress in this area. For example, HB 2520, a bill to strengthen existing reading policies, was signed by Governor Ducey. This is one of our top priorities, and we’re glad that the legislature agreed that helping struggling readers is critical. We’re also happy that they saw early literacy as a worthy investment. Next year, schools with high percentages of students in poverty will receive $12 million in targeted early literacy funding – up from $8 million this year.

However, there is still work to do in every single district across Arizona. With your help, we can move the needle and make sure that every child is reading on grade-level.

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