Southwestern States Among Nation's Worst In Reading Proficiency

By Carrie Jung, KUNM
January 29, 2014

Newly released KIDS COUNT data show that about two-thirds of American students don't read proficiently by the fourth grade. With the exception of Colorado, states in the Southwest fared among the worst in the nation.

According to the latest study, New Mexico claimed one of the bottom spots in the national ranking with almost 80 percent of fourth grade students reading below their grade level. California and Nevada were not far behind, with about 73 percent of fourth grade students reading below proficient levels, followed by Texas and Arizona at 72 percent.

Veronica Garcia is the Executive Director of New Mexico Voices for Children. She says a student’s ability to read proficiently impacts more than just school performance: Low literacy rates can exacerbate state poverty levels and contribute to larger economic issues.

"If you’re not reading by that grade level the likelihood of graduating from high school decreases significantly. If you do not graduate from high school then your earning potential goes down." Garcia said. "If we do not have a literate population, it makes it more difficult to attract high-wage jobs."

The study also shows that the proficiency gap between higher and lower income students widened over the last decade. Nationally, students of lower income families were about one and a half times less likely to read proficiently than those from higher income families.