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Helmut Schmidt, Published January 28 2014

Report: Two-thirds of ND children aren't proficient readers by fourth grade

FARGO – Two-thirds of North Dakota’s children aren’t proficient readers by the time they reach fourth grade, and the results are worse for the state’s low-income students, with nearly four out of five not hitting proficient reading marks, according to an Annie E. Casey Foundation KIDS COUNT report released Tuesday.

Research shows that reading proficiently early on is one key to a better life, said Karen Olson, program director for North Dakota KIDS COUNT.

“Children who are reading proficiently by the end of third grade are more likely to graduate from high school, less likely to fall into poverty, and more likely to find a job that can adequately support their families,” she said.

“And this is becoming more important, especially in North Dakota, where we want to make sure that children are college- and career-ready, ready to enter into the workforce and be successful in society and the global economy,” Olson said.

Using National Assessment of Education Progress test data, the report found:

• Nationally, 66 percent of children were not proficient at reading by grade four in 2013.

Eighty percent of low-income children and 49 percent of higher income children failed to read proficiently by grade four.

• In North Dakota, 66 percent of all children were not proficient at reading by grade four.

Seventy-eight percent of low-income children and 60 percent of high-income children failed to read proficiently by grade four.

• In Minnesota, 59 percent of all students failed to read proficiently by grade four.

Seventy-seven percent of lower-income children and 48 percent of higher-income children failed to read proficiently by grade four.

Olson said quality early childhood education can boost reading proficiency.

“Critical to children being able to read by fourth grade is a child’s readiness for school,” she said. “And preschool attendance happens to rank among the strongest success factors that influences school readiness.”

In North Dakota, roughly one in three children ages 3 and 4 is enrolled in preschool, Olson said. That’s the third-smallest proportion in the nation,” she said.

“If they’re ready to learn by kindergarten, they’re more likely to be reading proficiently by fourth grade, they’re more likely to graduate from high school, graduate from college, and be prepared for 21st-century careers,” she said.

Beyond income, the KIDS COUNT study found wide disparities in reading proficiency by race, disability status and for dual-language learners.

• The study found 55 percent of whites were not prepared to read by grade four, 83 percent of blacks, 81 percent of Hispanics or Latinos, 49 percent of Pacific Islanders, 78 percent of American Indians/Alaskan natives and 61 percent who claim two or more races.

• For students with disabilities, 89 percent were not proficient readers by grade four, compared with 63 percent who are not disabled.

• For dual-language learners, 93 percent were not proficient in reading by grade four, compared with 63 percent who aren’t dual-language learners.

Percentage of fourth-graders reading below proficient levels by family income in 2013

JurisdictionAll studentsLower incomeHigher income
National668049
Minnesota597748
North Dakota667860
South Dakota688258
Montana657854
Wisconsin658053
Iowa627752


Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583