Report: A large majority of Ky. kids aren't reading proficiently by fourth grade

A large majority of children in Kentucky are not reading proficiently by the time they reach fourth grade, according to a report released Tuesday by two child advocacy groups.

The report, called Early Reading Proficiency in the United States, said that about two-thirds of Kentucky children are not reading at grade level at the start of fourth grade, a news release said.

In addition, the report from Kentucky Youth Advocates and the national Annie E. Casey Foundation said Kentucky is one of only 12 states where the reading proficiency gap between students from higher- and lower-income families widened by more than 30 percent from 2003 to 2013. The data used in the snapshot is from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) which has a higher standard for proficiency than Kentucky's state reading assessment test, according to Kentucky Youth Advocate officials.

Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates, said the good news in the national report is that Kentucky students are performing at about the same level as the national average and are performing at an improved level.

"However, none of us should rest easy when only one out of three Kentucky students are meeting a standard which will be essential if they are to compete in an increasingly global economy," he said.

Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday said the report misuses the NAEP proficiency benchmark. Proficiency does not mean grade level, he said.

On the assessment, proficiency would equate more to being on track for college and career readiness, which is a higher standard than meeting "grade level," Holliday said.

Holliday said Kentucky does well on other key comparisons in the NAEP.

"With that said, we are very concerned that we continue to have major gaps in reading between groups of students," said Holliday.

Holliday and Brooks said high-quality early childhood experiences are the best way to close achievement gaps.