States Where Children are Struggling the Most to Read

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5. California
> Pct. 4th grade students below reading proficiency: 73% (tied-4th highest)
> Pct. not proficient – low-income: 85% (tied-the highest)
> Pct. not proficient – eighth grade: 28% (tied-8th highest)
> 2011 spending per pupil: $9,139 (16th lowest)

No state had a larger share of foreign-born residents than California, where 27% of all people were born outside the U.S. More than 44% of California residents spoke a language other than English at home, the most of any state in the nation. Among such residents, Spanish was the most common language, with 29% of California residents speaking Spanish at home. For many such residents, learning to read English proficiently may be difficult. Last year, 73% of California fourth graders lacked proficiency in reading. However, this marked a substantial improvement from 2003, when 79% of fourth graders were not considered proficient readers.

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4. Alaska
> Pct. 4th grade students below reading proficiency: 73% (tied-4th highest)
> Pct. not proficient – low-income: 85% (tied-the highest)
> Pct. not proficient – eighth grade: 29% (tied-6th highest)
> 2011 spending per pupil: $16,674 (2nd highest)

With a low poverty rate in 2012 and some of the highest education expenditures in the country in fiscal 2011, Alaska’s poor proficiency reading rates may come as somewhat of a surprise. Not only were children struggling to read in Alaska more than in most other states, but also the state was one of just a few where reading proficiency worsened between 2003 and 2013. While the link between early enrollment and performance is far from clear, part of the explanation could be low preschool enrollment between 2009 and 2011 when about two-thirds of children eligible for preschool did not attend, more than all but two other states. The issue could also be linked to Alaska’s vast size and the difficulty of providing reading resources to remote towns.

3. Louisiana
> Pct. 4th grade students below reading proficiency: 77%
> Pct. not proficient – low-income: 85% (tied-the highest)
> Pct. not proficient – eighth grade: 32% (tied-3rd highest)
> 2011 spending per pupil: $10,723 (22nd highest)

A decade ago, as many as 80% of Louisiana fourth graders were not proficient in reading, third most in the nation. Ten years later, the rate improved slightly to 77% — still third worst in the nation. For the state’s lower-income students, reading proficiency remained especially elusive. Last year, 85% of fourth graders from lower-income families were not proficient readers. Also, nearly one-third of students were still not strong readers by the eighth grade. Despite these low scores, groups such as StudentsFirst have praised the state’s approach to education, highlighting the state’s commitment to charter schools and giving students more choices in where to go to school.

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2. New Mexico
> Pct. 4th grade students below reading proficiency: 79% (tied-the highest)
> Pct. not proficient – low-income: 85% (tied-the highest)
> Pct. not proficient – eighth grade: 33% (2nd highest)
> 2011 spending per pupil: $9,070 (15th lowest)

Last year, 61% of New Mexican children from higher-income families struggled with reading, more than in any state except for West Virginia. Widespread poverty in the state, however, is still a likely factor in low literacy rates. More than one in five state residents lived below the poverty line in 2012, among the very worst in the nation. Children from poorer families fared worse than those from higher-income families, with 85% unable to read proficiently last year, tied for the worst nationwide. In the eighth grade, many students in New Mexico were also struggling. About one-third of eighth graders were not proficient readers in 2013, second-worst in the country. The state recently reformed its teacher evaluation system, which may will lead to improvement in the future.

1. Mississippi
> Pct. 4th grade students below reading proficiency: 79% (tied-the highest)
> Pct. not proficient – low-income: 85% (tied-the highest)
> Pct. not proficient – eighth grade: 36% (the highest)
> 2011 spending per pupil: $7,928 (5th lowest)

Mississippi is the poorest state in the nation by a number of measures. The state’s median household income was just $37,095 in 2012, while more than 24% of residents lived below the poverty line.In 2012 Mississippi residents were more likely to lack access to basic needs than Americans in any other state. The large population of economically disadvantaged residents has likely contributed to the state’s low reading proficiency rates. As of 2013, 79% of fourth graders were not proficient readers, tied for the highest percentage in the nation. Last year 85% of fourth grade students from lower-income families were lacked proficiency in reading, tied for the worst in the nation. However, higher-income students also did not score well either — 58% were not strong readers. That same year, 36% of eighth graders were still not proficient readers, more than any other state and well above the 23% of eighth graders nationwide.