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How We Can All Improve Reading Proficiency in North Texas

Join us in support of early literacy initiatives, including United Way Reading Day presented by EY on March 3.

January 30, 2023

With United Way Reading Day happening in just a few weeks, everyone at United Way of Metropolitan Dallas is feeling the excitement around this exciting and impactful annual event.

United Way Reading Day presented by EY is a unique opportunity for us to work with community volunteers to spark a love of reading in young students across North Texas. Early literacy is important for all children and is foundational to our three focus areas—education, income and health—which we’ve identified as the building blocks of opportunity.

As we look ahead to Reading Day presented by EY, held Friday, March 3 in 18 different local schools, let’s explore the importance of reading proficiency, how our children have fared on their reading test scores in the years since the start of the pandemic, the impact of Reading Day throughout North Texas and how you can be part of this incredible event.

The Importance of Reading Proficiency

Education lays the groundwork for financial stability and good health later in life. When kids have the skills they need to succeed in school—like reading at grade level—they are better equipped to thrive at every stage. Research shows the connection between education and other key areas:

  • Children who enter school ready to learn are more likely to read proficiently by third grade.
  • Students who read on grade level by third grade are five times more likely to graduate ready for success in college or career.
  • College graduates can earn $36,000 more a year, enabling them to save for the future.
  • Financially stable adults can access quality health care for themselves and their families.

Early-education experts have identified third grade as an important learning milestone for students and a time when reading proficiency is especially significant. That’s because the ability to read opens the door to a child’s future, whether that takes the form of college, a career, the military or some other path.

Reading isn’t just great for children’s development, creativity and vocabulary. It’s the foundation for all other learning. When a student has strong reading skills, they are equipped to learn in other subjects, such as science, math, history and so much more. In fact, an estimated 85% of all curricula is taught by reading.

“Leading up to third grade, children are learning to read, but after that there’s a shift when they are reading to learn,” said Abigail Sharp, vice president of early childhood initiatives at United Way of Metropolitan Dallas. “Once children develop strong literacy skills, they are ready to begin learning and succeeding in every subject.”

Reading Proficiency in North Texas

When the COVID-19 pandemic significantly disrupted learning in North Texas, parents and teachers alike worried that students would fall behind in key areas like reading skills. And while standardized reading test scores in 2020 and 2021 showed that some learning loss did occur, the most recent nationwide tests indicate that local students’ reading skills are back to their pre-pandemic levels.

Consider the results for the 2022 Reading Report Cards for fourth and eighth graders. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)—a congressionally mandated nation-wide assessment—is designed to measure students’ knowledge of key topics as they progress in school.

Nationwide, students’ 2022 reading scores declined an average of three points compared to 2019. Fourth graders’ average reading scores were lower than all previous assessment years going back to 2005. The same was true of eighth graders going back to 1998. In addition to their test scores falling, students’ confidence in their reading skills also declined.

However, students in North Texas bucked this trend. The local NAEP reading scores showed no significant change since 2019, and Dallas Independent School District stood out, outperforming 16 other large urban districts. This indicates that over the last few years many of our students have caught up on any learning loss that occurred as a result of the pandemic.

“These national results give us a baseline from which we can continue to work to improve and lift up our students,” said Dallas ISD Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde in a district press release. “They also show a student-centered board who supported the hard work teachers, principals, auxiliary staff, parents, partners and everyone with our district did during the pandemic to minimize disruptions and accelerate learning.”

Sharp also points to the success of early literacy initiatives like those from United Way of Metropolitan Dallas.

“United Way and other local community organizations recognize the importance of literacy and exposure to reading from a very early age,” she says. “Programs like United Way Reading Day and Once Upon a Month create opportunity and access where it didn’t exist before, exposing children to the joys and possibilities of books in a way that will benefit them for years to come.”

Impact of United Way Reading Day

Each year, United Way Reading Day presented by EY engages hundreds of volunteers who read exciting and educational picture books to thousands of children across North Texas.

After switching to a virtual format in 2021 due to the pandemic, United Way returned to an in-person event last year. As Jennifer Sampson, McDermott-Templeton president and CEO of United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, explained, this shows students “that their community cares and is invested in their success in school. Sparking a love of reading at an early age creates a strong foundation for children, ensuring they’re equipped to succeed in school, in their careers and in life.”

This year, Reading Day presented by EY will be held March 3 across 18 North Texas campuses, with more than 7,000 young scholars participating. Volunteers will promote literacy and celebrate the joy of reading as they read to primary school scholars across North Texas classrooms, participate in virtual book drives and create inspirational bookmarks for students.

This year’s books will explore the themes of diversity and friendship—two topics that are sure to engage young and curious minds and draw them into the enchantment of a good book.

We invite you to join us as a Reading Day volunteer, either by signing up to read to students in person or by joining one of our virtual volunteer opportunities. To learn more about United Way Reading Day and to volunteer, visit our volunteer page.

Support Early Literacy in North Texas

Research indicates that by the end of third grade, 74% of struggling readers won’t ever catch up. That’s why it’s so important for children to have literacy opportunities and exposure as early as possible.

In addition to volunteering for Reading Day presented by EY, consider a few other ways to be part of the change in our community:

  • Give: Make a donation to support programs like Reading Day and Once Upon a Month™, which delivers age-appropriate children’s books to North Texas children every month to encourage language development and spark a love of reading.
  • Advocate: The Texas Legislature is currently in session, and now is the perfect time to join us in advocating for policy changes that will improve access to education for local students. Sign up for our Advocacy Alerts today.

Join Us on Reading Day

Volunteer for Reading Day presented by EY on March 3, and help spark a love of reading that could last a lifetime. Visit our volunteer page to learn more about in-person and virtual volunteer opportunities.