- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 28, 2014

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - There is a large income gap in the reading proficiency of Virginia’s fourth-graders, a report released Tuesday said.

Virginia is one of eight states with a family income-based gap of 34 percentage points or more between students’ proficiency on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. One in five poor students were proficient or better on the fourth-grade reading assessment, compared to more than half of the students in high-income areas, the report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation said.

“Unfortunately, by the time they are 8 years old, many children - especially those living in low-income families - have not met the developmental milestones that are essential for future success in school and in life,” the report, “Early Reading Proficiency in the United States,” stated.

Virginia Secretary of Education Anne Holton told the Richmond Times-Dispatch (http://bit.ly/1b4jQO0 ) that education officials must focus their attention on making sure the gains achieved by higher income students are shared across all income groups.

“Highlighting the gaps in reading proficiency between our higher income and lower income students is necessary to track our progress,” Holton said in a statement.

Connecticut had the highest income gap, at 38 percentage points. West Virginia had the lowest gap, at 13 percentage points, the report said.

Fourth-grade reading level is a key indicator in predicting how well students will do during the rest of their academic careers.

Educators in Richmond are using a pilot program at Woodville Elementary School to identify and work with students likely to slip through the cracks.

“These students are not necessarily falling at the lowest end, but they’re not super-accelerated, either,” said Kate Schenk, who manages the Mentoring and Reading Student to Student program for the Richmond Education Foundation.

“These are students who have high potential if just had a little extra support,” Schenk told the newspaper.

The group Voices for Virginia’s Children is pushing for a larger, statewide effort.

“We have heard lawmakers pledge that students should not have unequal educational opportunities due to their ZIP code,” said Emily Griffey, a senior policy analyst for the group.

“We ask that lawmakers make the same pledge to students despite their family income.”

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Information from: Richmond Times-Dispatch, http://www.timesdispatch.com