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Georgia to Lead the Nation in a Collaborative 10-Year Commitment to
Address Grade-level Reading
Georgia KIDS COUNT Special Report Makes Reading by the End of Third Grade a Statewide Priority
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 bring systems together 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
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
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
“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.
To read these special reports and find the most current Georgia KIDS COUNT data, visit gafcp.org/read.
The Casey Foundation will release the report during a webcast on May 18th at 1:00 PM EDT. The live webcast will
include featured speakers and a panel discussion, moderated by Michel Martin, Host of NPR’s “Tell Me More,”
with representatives from the education, government and business sectors. To register for the webcast, please visit
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.