TEMPE, Ariz. – Education experts say when preschoolers can’t read at an age-appropriate level, it can hamper their long-term success in the classroom. The program “Read On Arizona” aims to make sure every child in Arizona schools reads at the proper level by the time they finish third grade.
The need is great – standardized tests show 42 percent of Arizona students entering fourth grade fall below the national average for basic reading levels. Read On Arizona is now in 25 communities and school districts across the state.
Marie Raymond, education coordinator in the City of Tempe, says city leaders have made a major commitment to it.
“There is a direct correlation between a child’s reading ability and their future academic success,” says Raymond. “We know that early literacy skills and early language skills set the stage for learning outcomes across a child’s educational trajectory.”
Of the almost 800,000 Arizona children under age nine, almost one-quarter live in poverty, and about half have difficulty speaking and understanding English. Raymond says Read On Arizona, which was started in 2012, has a 10-year strategic plan to deliver “the right program at the right time for every child.”
Raymond emphasizes that third grade is a critical year for students in terms of reading skills.
“By the end of third grade, you go from learning to read to reading to learn,” says Raymond. “If a child is still struggling with learning to read, then that significantly impacts their ability to learn going forward in school.”
She adds that having highly qualified preschool teachers is another critical part of building that early foundation of reading skills.
“All of our preschool teachers have a bachelor’s degree or higher and are certified in early childhood education,” says Raymond. “All the research told us that was one of the largest predictors of success of programs.”
A coalition of educators, families, businesses, public agencies, philanthropy and communities play a role in Read On Arizona’s success. Founding partners include the Arizona Community Foundation, Arizona Department of Education, First Things First, Head Start, the Helios Education Foundation, and the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust.