Marilee Dal Pra, Program Director, Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust, talks to Sonoran Living about the importance of reading at grade-level.

With a new national report showing that children who don’t read well by third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school, three Arizona foundations are leading a statewide collaborative to tackle the underlying issues preventing children, especially low-income children, from learning to read at grade level.

Joining The Campaign for Grade Level Reading, a nationwide 10 year initiative that makes reading proficiency and early reading an urgent priority, the collaboration features numerous cities and organizations across Arizona, including Helios Education Foundation, Arizona Community Foundation and Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust.

“Grade level reading” is a skill and benchmark that is essential to the academic and vocational success of students in Arizona and across the country.

“Third grade reading levels are strong predictors of ninth grade performance, high school graduation, and college attendance- ultimately driving the quality and competitiveness of our workforce,” said Marilee Dal Pra, Program Director, Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust and a member of the Expect More Arizona Board.

The goal of The Campaign for Grade Level Reading is to address the three leading causes preventing students from reading at grade level, which include school readiness, attendance gaps, and summer learning gaps.

School readiness is inherently important as 40 percent of incoming kindergartners nationwide enter school without basic language skills and many low-income children lack early interactions that foster linguistic development which can result in up to a 30 million word gap. Looking at attendance, chronic absence is a problem for 1 in 10 kindergartners/first-graders nationwide, with some school districts having a 1 in 4 ratio for attendance. For low-income children with chronic early grade absence, the effects can impact their progress as they continue on to higher grade levels.

Recent studies show that low-income children can lose up to three months of reading comprehension skills due to summer learning loss, when compared to their more affluent peers. By the end of fifth grade, these same students can be as much as three grade levels behind. Studies also show that low-income children may hear as many as 30 million fewer words than their middle-income peers before reaching kindergarten.

In Arizona, the statewide collaborative has been created to join The Campaign for Grade Level Reading to address these three issues and ensure Arizona students have access to a world-class education. Made up of 30 organizations including nonprofits, public agencies, cities/towns, and foundations-all have signed on to make major inroads to increase early literacy and advance Arizona third graders effectively

The collaboration’s local Campaign for Grade Level Reading will promote strategies and policies that work to close reading achievement gaps, raise the bar to world class standards for reading proficiency, and ensure that all children, regardless of socio-economics, will have an equitable opportunity to meet the academic standards. In fact the Arizona Department of Education, United Way and First Things First have collected rich data that the collaborative intends to build on and further assess in an effort to continue making targeted investments to help ensure children can read at grade level.

Parents, teachers and schools looking to find out more about the campaign and how they can support this effort can start by building strong literacy skills at home.  Reading to kids when they are young and encouraging them to read on their own as they grow creates a strong foundation for reading proficiency. Reading fluency comes with practice so it is important for children to put down the video games, shut off the T.V., and spend time reading.

The Arizona Department of Education’s website also maintains all of the latest information on the status of K-12 literacy, the literacy skills children require at every age, and the programs underway, etc. at Information on the Campaign for Grade Level Reading is at: