The latest report from the National Assessment of Education Progress indicates a decline in the reading scores of the weakest readers.
Data collected from 1992 to 2000 show that fourth-grade reading scores have continued to climb for above-average readers, but that the scores for low-scoring readers have continued to slide.
The data underscore a similar study released earlier this year by the National Education Goals Panel. That study showed that the average performance of the top 25 percent of pupils is improving while the bottom 25 percent's scores are declining.
"The new NAEP data, coupled with National Education Goals Panel findings, reinforces the need to focus attention on the nation's weakest readers," Indiana Gov. Frank O'Bannon stated in a news release accompanying the report. Mr. O'Bannon is the chairman of the National Education Goals Panel.
"We need to identify and adopt effective policies and practices for early reading efforts with at-risk students. By the fourth grade, our nation's youth should be reading to learn, not learning to read."
Through the work of Gov. Roy Barnes and state schools Superintendent Linda Schrenko, Georgia is adding more funding to help lower class size and expand after-school programs.
Both initiatives are being expanded in Richmond County this fall.
Virginia Bradshaw, Richmond County's assistant superintendent for instruction, said a statistical breakdown of pupil achievement test scores for each school will be available this summer.
Each school will be able to study those scores and see which segments of the pupil population are doing well and which segments need more help. The breakdown will be by age, grade, gender and ethnicity, Dr. Bradshaw said.
"Each school will really be able to see where they need to improve," she said.
The data, supplied by the state Department of Education, will be used to adjust education programs.
Carol Rountree, the director of guidance and testing for Richmond County schools, said a number of after-school and summer programs aimed at those fourth-grade pupils who are struggling to keep up with the rest of their classmates will be expanded this fall.
"The state Department of Education has also adopted a program dealing with the lowest 10 percent of each school and providing funding for programs to help those students," Dr. Rountree said.
The National Education Goals Panel is a bipartisan body consisting of an equal number of Republicans and Democrats from the federal and state levels of government. The panel includes eight governors, four members of Congress, four state legislators and two presidential appointees.
The group has eight focus points: pupil achievement, high school completion, teacher education and professional development, parental participation in schools, adult literacy, safe and drug-free schools, readying pupils to learn when they start school and making U.S. pupils first in the world in mathematics and science achievement tests.
Reach Justin Martin at (706) 823-3552.