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Reading Proficiency (see data for this topic)

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Why This Topic Is Important
Students proficient in reading are more likely to be engaged in school, graduate from high school, and go to college (1). Students with limited reading abilities have a harder time keeping up across multiple subjects, including math and science, and those who fall behind in the early grades often stay behind (1, 2). Early intervention is critical for children who are struggling with reading (2). Limited reading skills can have effects into adulthood, too, as reading proficiency is associated with better employment and income prospects, and adults with limited reading abilities are likely to have children who struggle with reading (1).

State and national data consistently show achievement gaps in reading by race/ethnicity, income, and English Learner status. Some progress has been made in reducing the gaps, but large inequities remain (3).
For more information on reading proficiency see’s Research & Links section.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  Child Trends Databank. (2015). Reading proficiency. Retrieved from:

2.  U.S. Department of Education. (2013). For each and every child—A strategy for education equity and excellence. Retrieved from:

3.  Education Trust–West. (2015). National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 2015 results. Retrieved from:
Policy Implications
Significant education policy changes have taken place in California and the U.S. in recent years, such as the state’s Local Control Funding Formula, the Common Core State Standards, the Smarter Balanced Assessment System, and the Every Student Succeeds Act (1, 2). Policymakers now face challenges in effectively implementing these large-scale changes, which have the potential to reduce long-standing achievement gaps in reading proficiency by race/ethnicity, income level, disability status, and English Learner status (2).

Policy options that could improve reading proficiency include:
  • Ensuring that all children have access to high-quality preschool or kindergarten readiness programs, which lay the foundation for later achievement (3, 4)
  • Continuing to support K-12 schools in creating positive school climates and developing comprehensive, coordinated, evidence-based systems to address students’ physical, emotional, behavioral, and other needs (4, 5)
  • In accordance with California law, supporting effective strategies to increase family involvement in school, which is linked to improvements in student behavior, academic achievement, and engagement in school, as well as improvements in school climate (6)
  • As California works to meet Every Student Succeeds Act requirements, ensuring that the state’s new accountability system is meaningful, effective, streamlined, and supports all students, particularly low-income students, children of color, students with disabilities, and English Learners (1, 2, 7)
  • Supporting efforts to provide school districts and county offices of education with affordable technical assistance as they implement California’s Local Control Funding Formula, and ensuring implementation effectively focuses resources on high-need students (2, 3)
  • Ensuring adequate investment in evidence-based literacy improvements at all levels—early education, elementary, middle, and high school; such literacy initiatives should be grounded in research, include mechanisms to identify and support struggling students, and incorporate professional development for teachers, in alignment with Common Core Standards (2, 7)
  • Supporting all teachers in improving the quality and consistency of literacy instruction that is appropriate to each grade level (2, 7)
  • Ensuring equitable student access to rigorous, high-quality instructional materials and the technology needed for Smarter Balanced Assessments and 21st century instruction (2)
  • Continuing to improve the state’s education data system, so that it provides meaningful reports to local educators and leaders to inform decision making (3)
For more policy and program ideas related to reading proficiency, see’s Research & Links section or visit Education Trust–West, EdSource, or the Institute of Education Sciences What Works Clearinghouse. Also see Policy Implications on under Math Proficiency, High School Graduation, and Family Income and Poverty.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  Education Trust–West. (2015). The Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015: What it means for equity and accountability in California. Retrieved from:

2.  Education Trust–West. (2014). The Education Trust–West 2014 Policy Agenda: Tectonic shifts in California's education landscape. Retrieved from:

3.  Hill, L., et al. (2016). California's future: K-12 education. Public Policy Institute of California. Retrieved from:

4.  My Brother’s Keeper Task Force. (2014). My Brother’s Keeper Task Force report to the President. Retrieved from:

5.  Basch, C. E., et al. (2015). Health barriers to learning and the education opportunity gap. Education Commission of the States. Retrieved from:

6.  Thigpen, D., & Freedberg, L. (2014). The power of parents: Research underscores the impact of parent involvement in schools. EdSource & New America Media. Retrieved from:

7.  Haynes, M. (2015). The next chapter: Supporting literacy within ESEA. Alliance for Excellent Education. Retrieved from:
How Children Are Faring
In 2016, 48% of public school students who took the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) met or exceeded their grade-level standard in English Language Arts/Literacy. At the county level, proficiency ranged from 30% (Lake) to 67% (Marin). Data also show variation by English fluency, race/ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. For example, 35% of socioeconomically disadvantaged students in California scored at or above their grade-level standard in 2016, compared with 69% of their non-disadvantaged peers. Among racial/ethnic groups, proficiency rates were 70% or higher among Asian American and Filipino students, and below 40% for African American/black, American Indian/Alaska Native, and Hispanic/Latino groups.