Study: Most 3rd graders are below average

By the age of eight, only a third of students have grade-level literacy, math and science skills, according to The First Eight Years: Giving Kids a Foundation for Lifetime Success. The Casey Foundation report used federal data to track 13,000 children from kindergarten through middle school.

The Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten defines scoring at or above the national average on all three subjects as meeting cognitive development benchmarks, reports Education Week.

The data analysis showed that by 3rd grade, 56 percent were on track with physical development, 70 percent with social and emotional growth, and 74 percent in their level of school engagement.

. . .  19 percent of 3rd graders in families with incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty line—in 2001, that was $35,920 for a family of four—were hitting their cognitive development milestones. In comparison, 50 percent of children in families above that income level hit that mark.

The analysis also showed that 14 percent of black children and 19 percent of Hispanic children were on track in cognitive development.

This strikes me as the Lake Wobegon effect in reverse. Instead of all the kids being above average, two thirds are below average. If only half the middle-class and affluent kids are on track cognitively, “on track” must be too high.

The report advocates “quality birth-through-8 education programs targeted at children from low-income families” and linking preschool providers to elementary schools, notes Education Week.

More children live in poverty

The child poverty rate soared to 20 percent because of the recession, according to the Kids Count analysis of children’s well-being by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

“The recent recession has wiped out many of the economic gains for children that occurred in the late 1990s,” said Laura Speer, associate director for policy reform and data at the Casey Foundation, as the report was released Wednesday. “Nearly 8 million children lived with at least one parent who was actively seeking employment but was unemployed in 2010. This is double the number in 2007, just three years earlier.”

The wave of foreclosures has increased housing problems for families with children.

Some 42 percent of children live in families under economic pressure, which Kids Count defines as $43,512 a year, or twice the federal poverty line for a family of four. That’s “a minimum needed for most families to make ends meet,” Speer says.

New Hampshire (11 percent), Minnesota (14 percent), and Massachusetts (13 percent) have the least child poverty, while Alabama (25 percent), Louisiana (24 percent), and Mississippi (31 percent) have the most.

While more children are living in poverty and in single-parent families, some child well-being factors have improved since 2000, including infant and child mortality, the teen birth rate and the dropout rate.


What's poverty?

Child well-being improved in most categories, reports the Casey Foundation’s Kids Count Data Book. However, the nation needs a new way of calculating the poverty rate, the report said.

The report documented improvements since 2000 in the infant mortality rate, child death rate, teen death rate, high school dropout rate, and teens not in school and not working. Four areas have worsened: low-birthweight babies, children living with jobless or underemployed parents, children in poverty, and children in single-parent families.

Next year’s report, which will include post-recession data, is expected to show more children living in poverty.  However, the poverty formula, developed in the ’60s, is “thoroughly outdated,” Casey concluded.

It calculates the cost of a basic grocery budget for a given family size and multiplies the total by three because food, in the ’60s, represented one-third of a typical family budget.

The formula has not been recalculated since then even though, according to Casey, food now accounts for only about one-seventh of a typical family’s budget.

The formula takes no account of child care, transportation, health insurance, and certain government benefits such as food stamps and housing vouchers. Also — except for Alaska and Hawaii — it does not reflect regional differences in the cost of living.

After years of decline, the teen birth rate rose from 2005 to 2006. However, recessions often curb the birth rate. Births are down in Silicon Valley, except for mothers over 40.