Reading: It Matters

A few weeks ago Darrell came to me with a slip of paper on which he’d jotted some notes from a recent meeting he’d attended. He was wondering if I would look online for statistics and research about the reading levels of 3rd graders and how that relates to high school dropout rates.

Right now, I haven’t gotten much further than a lengthy report published by the Annie E. Casey Foundation in 2010. It’s titled “Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters,” and it was recently referenced in a 2011 article in The Huffington Post. Below are some excerpts from the report that I found interesting–as well as disheartening–since the children we primarily serve are low-income and black or Hispanic. Neither group fared well in the report’s findings.

  • Millions of American children get to 4th grade without learning to read proficiently. And that puts them on the dropout track.
  • In 2007, nearly 6.2 million young people were high school dropouts.
  • Every student who does not complete high school costs our society an estimated $260,000 in lost earnings, taxes, and productivity.
  • High school dropouts are also moe likely than those who graduate to be arrested or have a child while still a teenager.
  • The shortfall in reading proficiency is especially pronounced among low-income children: of the 4th graders who took the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading test in 2009, fully 83% of children from low-income families — and 85% of low-income students who attend high-poverty schools — failed to reach the “proficient” level.
  • The share of Black, Hispanic, and Native American students who score below proficient on the NAEP reading test is catastrophically high (89%, 87%, and 85%, respectively) and much larger than the share of low-income white or Asian/Pacific Islander students (76% and 70%).
  • Three-quarters of students who are poor readers in 3rd grade will remain poor readers in high school, according to researchers at Yale University.
  • By the time children from low-income families enter kindergarten, they are typically 12-14 months below national norms in language and pre-reading skills.
  • By age 3, children from wealthier families typically had heard 30 million more words than children from low-income families.
  • In 2009, 75% of 4th graders in Arizona scored below the proficient reading level.
  • In 2009, 63% of white 4th graders in Arizona scored below the proficient reading level, as compared to 80% of black 4th graders and 86% of Hispanic 4th graders.

Children who are poor readers grow up to be teenagers who are poor readers who become adults who are poor readers. And how can one who can barely read dig into God’s Word? Christian Book Distributors suggests appropriate reading levels for these popular translations of the Bible:

  • King James Version – 12th grade
  • ESV – 10th grade
  • NIV – 7th-8th grade
  • NKJV – 7th grade
  • NLT – 6th grade

A reader below 4th grade level would struggle with any of those translations. Is that perhaps why it seems there are more and more “easier” (and perhaps “looser”?) translations and paraphrases being introduced today — and not just for children, but for adult audiences? There are great spiritual ramifications when the majority of a country’s citizens are incapable of reading well enough to study the Bible for themselves.

Several past presidents recognized the importance of Bible study. Consider these quotes:

  • A thorough knowledge of the Bible is worth more than a college education. – Theodore Roosevelt
  • I have always said and always will say that the studious perusal of the Sacred Volume will make better citizens, better fathers, better husbands…the Bible makes the best people in the world. – Thomas Jefferson
  • Within the covers of the Bible are the answers for all the problems men face. – Ronald Reagan

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