Arizona Foundations Lead Broad-Based Effort To Move The Needle On Grade Level Reading

Posted on: November 15, 2011

With a new national report showing that children who don't read well by third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school, three Arizona foundations are leading a statewide collaborative to tackle the underlying issues preventing children, especially low-income children, from learning to read at grade level.

Helios Education Foundation, Arizona Community Foundation (ACF) and Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust are collaborating with numerous cities and organizations across Arizona who have all joined the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. This national, 10-year initiative is focused on moving the needle on reading proficiency and making early reading an urgent priority.

Helios, ACF and Piper will convene community stakeholders in a series of statewide meetings, with the results leading to an integrated statewide system that addresses the three leading causes preventing students from reading at grade level: school readiness, school absenteeism and summer learning loss.

Foundation leaders and members of the collaborative will promote strategies and policies that work to close reading achievement gaps; raise the bar for reading proficiency so that all students are assessed by world-class standards; and ensure that all children have an equitable opportunity to meet those higher standards.

Organizers plan to build on and enhance the data collection and other work already done by Arizona stakeholders such as First Things First, the Arizona Department of Education and the United Way.

"Helios Education Foundation understands the urgency around grade level reading and we are working to improve the quality of the early learning environment by providing professional development opportunities for the teachers of children aged birth to five," said Karen Ortiz, Helios Education Foundation Vice President and Director of Early Childhood Education. "Teacher quality is a critical component to student success, and, in the last four years, we have invested over $10 million into professional development initiatives for early childhood teachers and practitioners with an emphasis on language acquisition and emergent literacy knowledge and practice."

Recent studies show that low-income children can lose up to three months of reading comprehension skills due to summer learning loss, when compared to their more affluent peers. By the end of fifth grade, these same students can be as much as three grade levels behind. Studies also show that low-income children may hear as many as 30 million fewer words than their middle-income peers before reaching kindergarten.

"Recognizing these devastating statistics, the Arizona Community Foundation and our partners are coming together to truly move the needle on early literacy," said Jim Pitofsky, Arizona Community Foundation Chief Strategy Officer. "It is imperative that we address this forcefully and assure that all young children are able to read well by third grade, the necessary point of passage for students to succeed in later grades."

The state of Arizona joins more than 150 cities, counties and towns across the country all taking action and pledging to tackle the grade-level reading crisis through coordinated local efforts. The National League of Cities, United Way World Wide, and other national partners will recognize communities that develop the most comprehensive and sustainable plans to address the three primary barriers to early reading.

"The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading has galvanized our collective efforts to ensure that all children in Arizona have the language skills to be successful life-long learners," said Marilee Dal Pra, Program Director for Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust. "Working with our partners, we intend to make targeted investments in early literacy work and understand that it will take a united and sustained effort for Arizona's children to achieve reading proficiency in the early years."

Recent studies speak to the importance of early reading skills. Children who aren't reading at grade level by third grade are four times less likely to graduate from high school than their reading-proficient peers. If those struggling readers are poor, they're 13 times likelier to be high school dropouts. Arizona's recently enacted Move on When Reading legislation-mandating the retention of third graders who are not reading at grade level-puts additional pressure on the state to help young readers.

Arizona's statewide collaborative includes a broad cross-section of community groups and organizations who have signed on in support of the campaign:
Arizona Community Foundation
Arizona Department of Education
Arizona Interfaith Movement
Balsz School District
Children's Action Alliance
City of Phoenix Human Services Department
Coconino County
Diamond Foundation
Educare Arizona
Expect More Arizona
Flagstaff Unified School District
First Things First
Flowing Wells Unified School District
Helios Education Foundation
Literacy Connects in Tucson
Navajo County
Northern Arizona University
Phoenix Elementary School District
Pima County Public Library
Southwest Human Development
Tucson Unified School District
United Way of Northern Arizona
United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona
United Way of Yuma County
Valley of the Sun United Way
Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust
Yuma Chamber of Commerce
Yuma County School Superintendent

For more information on the national Campaign for Grade Level Reading, visit their website at

Category: Early Grade Success

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