Photo: Micaela Bedell for Strategies for Children
Photo: Micaela Bedell for Strategies for Children

Today, the Boston Globe editorial page sounded an alarm on fourth-grade NAEP reading scores. 

Usually, the release of these scores is “an opportunity for Massachusetts to crow about its top-scoring performance by fourth- and eighthgraders,” the editorial said. But this year, “a disturbing finding jumps off the page: In grade four reading, the average score for Massachusetts students fell by five points, one of just a few statistically significant declines seen across the nation on that test.”

As we blogged here, “a startling 53% of children scored below proficient in fourth grade reading. Research shows that a significant portion of these children will continue to struggle in school.”

While Massachusetts students “topped or tied for first place in both English and math for both grades,” as the Globe explains, that’s still not good enough. More of the state state’s children should be proficient readers, so that Massachusetts is more competitive internationally.

“We’re getting no traction in grade four,’’ Mitchell Chester, the state commissioner for elementary and secondary education, told the Globe. As the editorial explains, Chester suspects the disappointing reading scores relate “directly to the loss of elementary school reading specialists over the past few years,’’ as school budgets tightened.

As the Globe says, fourth graders who have low NAEP scores need help from educators.

But the best solution for Massachusetts is to invest in programs that start building strong literacy skills at birth — supporting infants, toddlers and preschoolers who are at home or in high-quality early education and care programs. These programs provide language-rich environments where children learn crucial early literacy skills. And these skills prepare children to become proficient readers by fourth grade, to graduate from high school, and to pursue college and careers.

The educational achievement gap is evident long before fourth grade and long before children even enter school. We will not succeed in closing this gap unless we invest in early learning, high-quality pre-k and early literacy.