America's Fourth Graders Can't Read

An elementary school kid reads "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" to his mother.An elementary school kid reads “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” to his mother. PHOTO: Woodley Wonderworks

PHOTO: SEMINOLE COUNTY FLORIDA LIBRARYStudents who continue to learn throughout the summer months will have higher literacy rates than students who do not have after school or summer camp opportunities. PHOTO: Seminole County Library


Sixty-seven percent of all U.S. fourth graders cannot read at grade level, according to a new study by the  Annie E. Casey Foundation. In other words, 67 percent of all U.S. fourth graders cannot read books such as Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl.

If fourth graders cannot read by the time they are in fourth grade, they will be more likely to drop out of high school. If students don’t complete high school, they most likely will not go to college or they might drop out. Every student who does not graduate from high school “costs our society an estimated $260,000 in lost earnings, taxes and productivity,” according to the research. The study is based on a National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading test given in 2009.

The NAEP says, “When reading text appropriate at fourth grade, [students] should be able to extend the ideas in the text by making inferences; drawing conclusions, and making connections to their own experiences. The connection between the text and what the student infers should be clear.”

Reading levels improve very little by the time students enter eighth grade or high school. In fact, “only 32 percent of eighth graders and 38 percent of twelfth graders are at or above grade level,” According to the website Students First.

Among those with the worst reading levels are students from low-income, Black, Hispanic and Native American backgrounds, compared with moderate and high-income students, or low-income white or Asian/Pacific Islander students.


Factors that affect reading levels:

1. Children who do not read or engage in learning activities during the summer.

2. Children are distracted by hunger, food insecurity and housing insecurity.

3. Children who have too many problems at home become too stressed.


1. Universal access to child care, and after-school and summer programs.

2. Universal access to high-quality, affordable, comprehensive health care.

3. Help low-income parents and families support their children, so that they will continue going to school and stay active during the summer.

6 thoughts on “America's Fourth Graders Can't Read”

  1. I find it surprising that the fourth graders of America canot read books their level. I live in Canada and have a younger sister that is in fourth grade thant can read 300 page chapter books. When I was in third grade, I was reading sixth grade novels like “Island of the blue dolphin” (Great book!) Whoever becomes president should spent more money on the education system.

  2. I am a mother of a child who is in the fourth grade and barely reads at the 1st grade level. I feel like I am beating my head against a wall with the schools system. There are FOUR public elementary schools here and she has attended all of them with the same result. NO IMPROVEMENT!!!! They feel that 30 minutes in a room with 5 or 6 other students helps IT DOESN’T!!!! They feel that having her leave the classroom during Social Studies and Science (WHILE STILL GIVING HER HOMEWORK AND TESTS OVER ITEMS COVERED WHEN SHE’S NOT THERE) is helping IT DOESN’T. They implement and IEP for her with goals and plans that will get her “where she needs to be” IT DOESN’T. As a parent I have purchased numerous reading programs, taken less paying jobs to help, getting tutors, DIMINISHING MY INCOME TO ZERO and still no progress. WHAT DOES A PARENT IN MY SITUATION DO???? There are after school programs here but only accept about 20 children so the rest of us who REALLY NEED THIS ARE OUT OF LUCK. There are no boys and girls clubs no youth programs that help children with education around here. Any suggestions

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *