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Reading Scores In D.C., Maryland, Virginia Show Widening Income Gap

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Success at reading by the third grade is crucial to a child's educational outcomes.
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Success at reading by the third grade is crucial to a child's educational outcomes.
Click to read the full report (pdf).

Maryland and Virginia are two of eight states, along with the District, where there are gaps of 34 percentage points or more in reading test scores between children from low income and higher income families. That's according to a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Reading at the end of the third grade is considered a "key" milestone for children — it's when educators say students stop learning to read and start reading to learn. Research shows children who read at grade level by the end of the third grade are more likely to graduate from high school.

"Third grade reading and math is a huge predictor of high school graduation rates and how they do if they graduate, how they do in the workforce," says HyeSook Chung, with DC Action for Children.

Approximately 60 percent of fourth graders from higher income families in Maryland, Virginia and D.C. are reading at grade level. That compares with 24 percent of low income children in Maryland, 21 percent in Virginia and 13 percent in D.C. who are reading at grade level. The gap between high and low income students in D.C. is the highest in the nation.

Chung says while reading scores for both low and higher income groups have shown progress over the past decade, higher income children are improving at a faster pace, widening the reading gap. In fact, children from higher income families have shown three times the improvement compared to low income children.

"What we are seeing is the pace in which they need to gain is just not, we're not seeing the rate that we need to see for them to be at an equal footing with the high income level," Chung says.

Groups of students most at risk for not reading at grade level include English language learners, students with disabilities as well as black, Latino and Native American students.

This story is part of American Graduate — a public media initiative to address the drop out crisis, supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Percentage of Fourth Graders Reading at Proficient Levels or Above

Jurisdiction All Students 2003 All Students 2013 Percent Improvement Lower Income, 2013 Higher Income, 2013
D.C. 10% 23% 14% 13% 61%
Maryland 32% 45% 19% 24% 58%
Virginia 35% 43% 12% 21% 56%
National 30% 34% 6% 20% 51%
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