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New Data Shows Kids Are Struggling with Reading—How You Can Help

New Data Shows Kids Are Struggling with Reading—How You Can Help

Plus, 5 questions to ask your child's teacher to understand his strengths and weaknesses in reading

If your child is having a hard time learning to read or you’re worried she might fall behind, the Nation’s Report Card scores released yesterday aren’t great news. An alarming percentage of students in fourth and eighth grades are indeed struggling, according to the 2019 scores.

Nationwide, 35 percent of fourth graders and 34 percent of eighth graders are not proficient in reading, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Equally as disturbing: overall student proficiency in reading has actually declined over the last several years.

In New York City, the proficiency rates are even lower: 24 percent of fourth graders and 26 percent of eighth graders are proficient—both a full percentage point below what they were in 2017.

The response to this worrisome news is predictable. Policy wonks and elected officials are engaging in spirited discussions about how they can change education policy to improve children's chances at succeeding. There will, almost certainly, be a lot of finger pointing too, identifying what caused these surprising declines and what could have been done to prevent them. These discussions—the ones about how to fix things moving forward, at least—are important.

But most parents, understandably, are not thinking about this from a detached perspective. They are thinking about their own children. Some moms and dads will see the NAEP data and ask themselves if their own children are truly proficient in reading, or if they are quietly falling behind. For some parents who know their children are having a difficult time, the national NAEP scores will only reinforce their concerns.

How can I help my child improve his reading proficiency?

What can parents do to maximize their child’s chances at mastering reading? Research shows that, in the home, kids benefit when parents regularly read to them—ideally multiple times per day. Parents and children reading together, while working together on things such as phonics, word pronunciation, and vocabulary building, is incredibly beneficial.

Families who regularly read together say getting into this habit is surprisingly easy—because there is a lot of reading material around the house. Everything from children’s books to newspapers, menus, the daily mail, and online stories can be launchpads for family reading. There are also a multitude of free online reading resources for kids and families.

RELATED: 11 Apps that Help Kids Build Reading Skills

But your work together at home must also be complemented by effective reading instruction in your child’s school. It is still relatively early in the school year, and parents can ask several key questions of teachers and administrators to help understand their children’s progress, strengths, and challenges. To start with, parents should ask their child’s teacher:

  • Is my child at reading at or above grade level right now?
  • If there are concerns with my child’s proficiency, how soon will you tell me?
  • What is the reading curriculum you use, and how do you decide whether it's working?
  • Do you use a specific instructional strategy for teaching reading? If so, what is it?
  • Are there other clubs, activities, or optional classes that focus on reading and literacy that I should know about?

If your child is falling behind, work with his teacher to develop a plan to get him up to speed—a combination of projects and exercises that take place in the classroom and at home.

If you feel like you’ve exhausted your efforts to improve things, you might consider escalating the situation to a school administrator. If that does not work, consider a new school or learning environment for your child for the next school year, or sooner. Today, parents across the United States have more choices for their children’s schools than at any other time in history. These options—including traditional public schools, charter schools, magnet schools, online public schools, private schools, and home schooling—are plentiful in the New York metro area. But starting the school search process in the winter, such as during National School Choice Week (Jan. 26-Feb. 1, 2020), is far better than waiting until the spring or summer.

Reading is essential to student growth and lifelong success. It impacts every other subject. This week’s NAEP news is discouraging. But by asking informed questions, developing an at-home and at-school blended strategy, and sharing these tools with others, parents can work alongside teachers to give their children the best chances at success.


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Andrew Campanella


Andrew Campanella has served as president of National School Choice Week since 2012. From 150 events in 2011 to 40,549 in 2019, the NSCW has become the world’s largest education-related public awareness effort. Campanella is also the author of the forthcoming book The School Choice Roadmap: 7 Steps to Finding the Right School for Your Child, which offers practical advice to parents in navigating the process of exploring their options and choosing the best fit for their families.

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