States Where Children are Struggling the Most to Read

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10. Texas
> Pct. 4th grade students below reading proficiency: 72% (tied-8th highest)
> Pct. not proficient – low-income: 83% (tied-8th highest)
> Pct. not proficient – eighth grade: 24% (15th highest)
> 2011 spending per pupil: $8,671 (9th lowest)

Overall, fourth graders in Texas were less likely than kids in many other states to be strong readers. But proficiency rates differed considerably by level of income. Texan fourth graders from higher-income families scored better in reading than fourth graders nationally, with just slightly more than half reading below proficiency levels in 2013. Children from poor families, on the other hand, did much worse with more than 83% reading below proficiency. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, poor health during infancy can hamper language and important skill development. In its 2012 healthy behavior index, Gallup rated Texas among the worst in the nation.

9. South Carolina
> Pct. 4th grade students below reading proficiency: 72% (tied-8th highest)
> Pct. not proficient – low-income: 83% (tied-8th highest)
> Pct. not proficient – eighth grade: 27% (11th highest)
> 2011 spending per pupil: $8,986 (14th lowest)

Last year, 72% of fourth graders in South Carolina were not proficient in reading, only a two percentage point improvement from 2003, when 74% were not proficient readers. Early education is a major determinant for success later in life, according to the report. As of 2012, 10% of South Carolinians ages 16 to 19 were out of school but not working. This was among the higher rates in the U.S. Additionally, just 85% of adults aged 25 and older had at least a high school diploma as of 2012, lower than most other states. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley recently unveiled plans to increase funding to poorer school districts as well as to help students struggling to read.

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8. Arizona
> Pct. 4th grade students below reading proficiency: 72% (tied-8th highest)
> Pct. not proficient – low-income: 85% (tied-the highest)
> Pct. not proficient – eighth grade: 28% (tied-8th highest)
> 2011 spending per pupil: $7,666 (4th lowest)

Between 2009 and 2011, 67% of eligible Arizona children were not enrolled in preschool, more than any state except for Nevada. The state’s high poverty rate of nearly 19% was one of the worst in the nation and likely a factor in the state’s poor reading proficiency rates among children. Past high levels of immigration in Arizona and the influx of English as a second language students and households likely also lowered reading proficiency among the state’s children. More than one in five state residents spoke mainly Spanish at home in 2012, more than all but four other states. For foreign-born children, the challenge is often two-fold: learning a new language while struggling with lower family wages, according to the National Center for Children in Poverty.

7. West Virginia
> Pct. 4th grade students below reading proficiency: 73% (tied-4th highest)
> Pct. not proficient – low-income: 76% (tied-6th lowest)
> Pct. not proficient – eighth grade: 30% (5th highest)
> 2011 spending per pupil: $11,846 (14th highest)

Last year, 73% of West Virginia fourth graders were not considered proficient readers.While the median household income in the state was just $40,196 in 2012, among the nation’s lowest, it wasn’t just student from low-income families that struggled with reading. Students from high-income families struggled with reading as well, with 63% not proficient in reading, the highest percentage in the nation among that group. Also, 30% of eighth graders scored below proficient level in reading last year, fifth worst in the nation. Recently, StudentsFirst’s State Policy Report Card awarded West Virginia’s schools a failing grade due to weak spending controls and limited parental empowerment.

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6. Nevada
> Pct. 4th grade students below reading proficiency: 73% (tied-4th highest)
> Pct. not proficient – low-income: 83% (tied-8th highest)
> Pct. not proficient – eighth grade: 28% (tied-8th highest)
> 2011 spending per pupil: $8,527 (8th lowest)

Reading proficiency among fourth graders in Nevada improved by seven percentage points since 2003, more than in many other states. Primary school students, however, were still far below reading proficiency standards, with 73% of fourth graders struggling to read last year. One contributing factor may be poor health in the state. More than 22% of Nevada residents didn’t have health insurance in 2012, second-worst in the nation. Low educational attainment is a problem for many residents of Nevada. Only 22.4% of residents 25 or older had a bachelor’s degree, among the lowest rates in the country in 2012.