There’s a lot of work to do in Show-Me-State, as almost two out of three 4th graders in public schools are not proficient in reading. 

A national report titled, “Early Warning! Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters,” finds 64% percent of 4th graders in Missouri behind in their reading skills. That number’s just slightly better than the figure of 68% nationwide.

Emily Schwartze with Citizens for Missouri’s Future says that’s a major problem, because that’s the time period education shifts from learning to read to ‘reading to learn.’ If students aren’t proficient in reading by 4th grade, they’ll fall behind as lessons start relying on those reading skills to continue learning. They may Schwartze says it’s difficult to catch up after that.

“The ability to read by the end of 3rd grade really is central to a child’s success in school, to their life-long earning potential, and to their ability to contribute to the nation’s economy,” Schwartze said.

The report makes four main recommendations to educators nationwide: to invest in results-driven initiatives, develop solutions for the challenges of low-incomes students, stress pre-K education, and get parents actively involved in the learning process. Dr. Sharon Hoge, the Director of Curriculum and literacy services for the State Department of Education, says family involvement is a major issue, one the department’s tried to address with programs like Parents as Teachers.

“Often times it’s assumed that’s the job of schools, and certainly it is our job to do the best we can for all students. But we’re kind of all in this together, parents and teachers. It’s really important that families feel comfortable in communicating with schools,” Hoge said.

What should parents be doing at home?

“Providing the kind of emotional support, the kind of literacy support. Reading to their children, making sure they are safe and secure and feel comfortable going to school,” Hoge said.

Hoge agrees help for students from low-income families is also important, as the study finds 4 out of 5 of those 4th graders in Missouri are behind on their reading skills. She says that’s a priority for the DESE right now.

“Early literacy, preschool access for all children, that truly is important. Especially if children are from families of poverty, we need to be able to provide experiences for them that will make the playing field level,” Hoge said.

Schwartze says the study’s recommendations for schools aim to close the gap in reading skills.

“I certainly think that they’re doable. But it’s going to take investments from policy makers, investments from parents, investments from education personnel and school officials,” Schwartze said.

AUDIO: Ryan Famuliner reports (:63 mp3)