Georgia to Lead Nation in Collaborative 10-Year Commitment to Address Grade-level Reading

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Georgia’s children are falling below—or barely meeting—the basic standard in reading by the end of third grade. What is alarming is that children who don’t learn to read by this milestone can’t read to learn in the fourth grade and beyond. Good readers are more likely to graduate from high school on time, enter the workforce equipped with the necessary skills to succeed, and go on to productive careers.

The few strides we’ve made in Georgia to improve grade-level reading proficiency are ineffective because we’re not reaching every child and we’re not executing what we know we need to do. So state leaders and local stakeholders are working together to close the literacy gap and raise the bar for academic success in Georgia. B.J. Walker, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Human Services (DHS) is leading Georgia’s unprecedented endeavor to ensure that all children can read on grade level by the end of third grade.

“When we see achievement gaps for children in schools, it’s highly likely those gaps began sometime between birth and eight years old,” said Walker. “Birth to 8 stakeholders need a shared framework of critical transactions across all systems and a driving set of benchmarks that correlate with children reading at or above grade level by the end of third grade.”

Two out of three fourth-graders (67 percent) in the United States are not proficient in reading according to the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress. The Georgia picture is grimmer. Only 29 percent of fourth-graders read at a proficient level or better. Georgia students scored lower than fourth-graders in 29 states on this assessment.

Children from low-income and minority families fare even worse. In Georgia 18 percent of economically disadvantaged fourth-graders scored proficient and above compared to 44 percent of students from higher-income families. Only 15-percent of Georgia’s black students scored proficient or better.

“If we fail to raise our expectations that every child in Georgia will experience early reading success, our legacy will be another generation steeped in educational failure and poverty,” said Georgia Family Connection Partnership Executive Director Gaye Morris Smith. “It’s time to move our children off this dropout track.”

Our state, national, and world economy demands an educated workforce. Adopting rigorous standards and curricula, implementing testing that effectively measures achievement and progress, while providing an early warning system is the way to keep our schools and students on the right track. However, a 2009 NAEP study found wide variations in academic proficiency standards among states. Georgia’s standards were among the lowest in the nation.

Momentum is building for change to remedy the reading proficiency crisis. The Annie E. Casey Foundation is focusing national attention on the critical importance of achieving grade-level reading proficiency for all children with a special KIDS COUNT report, EARLY WARNING! Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters.

Georgia has joined the Casey Foundation in a 10-year commitment to move the needle on grade-level reading. Walker sees this effort as a powerful opportunity to create a policy and practice environment for reform that includes human services, early child care and education, and K-3.

“Making sure all children are reading on grade level, particularly by the end of third grade, is as much a human service issue as an educational one,” said Walker. “We see the consequences in fragile families who show up everyday at the door of DHS. This is a war we must win.” 

With a common framework in place, each stakeholder can be engaged in its own important work related to these critical transactions and focused on tracking the effects of that work in supporting each and every child in Georgia achieving literacy.

“We see promising local strategies already in motion in Georgia,” said Smith. “But we need to gain momentum, proceed in the same direction, and stay together. We should have great expectations of the system that serves our children—lawmakers, faith-based communities, agencies, chambers of commerce, military leaders, citizens, educators, parents, and the children themselves. Only then will every child in Georgia read at or above grade level and achieve school success.”

Georgia’s special report, Great Expectations: Every Child in Georgia Will Read At or Above Grade Level, discusses the status of early reading in Georgia, its challenges and expectations, and promising statewide efforts underway to improve literacy.

Read Georgia’s special report.

Visit to find out why reading by the end of third grade matters in Georgia.

Read the Washington Post story, “Study says more students struggling with reading at end of pivotal third grade.”

Read the USA Today story, “Groups Link 4th grade Reading Proficiency, National Success.”

Read the Education Week story, “Analysis Ties 4th Grade Reading Failure to Poverty.”

Visit the national KIDS COUNT Data Center to read The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT special report, Early Warning! Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters. You can also create your own maps, graphs, and charts of data related to early reading indicators at the national and state level.

Georgia Family Connection Partnership (GaFCP) is a public/private partnership created by the State of Georgia and funders from the private sector to assist communities in addressing the serious challenges facing children and families. GaFCP also serves as a resource to state agencies across Georgia that work to improve the conditions of children and families. Georgia KIDS COUNT provides policymakers and citizens with current data they need to make informed decisions regarding priorities, services, and resources that impact Georgia’s children, youth, families, and communities. Georgia KIDS COUNT is funded, in part, through a grant from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a private charitable organization dedicated to helping build better futures for disadvantaged children in the United States.

William Valladares
GaFCP Communications Coordinator

404-527-7394 (x114)

Naja Williamson
Georgia KIDS COUNT coordinator
404-527-7394 (x133)