According to a 12-year study conducted by Ohio State University, as reported by USA Todaystudents entering first grade in 2013 had "significantly better reading skills" than the same age group 12 years earlier. The study assessed hundreds of thousands of new first graders from thousands of schools in 44 states, testing them on basic and advanced literacy skills. "Children are better prepared when they enter first grade than they used to be," said Emily Rodgers, a professor of teaching at Ohio State University and study co-author. "Kindergarten is the new first grade when it comes to learning reading skills."

There's still work to be done, though. Co-author Jerome D'Agostino said the study is good news, but couldn't explain why low-performers are falling further behind their classmates. "There's a missing link between teaching low-achieving students basic literacy skills and having them actually put those skills to use in reading," he said. "They're doing better at learning sounds and letters, and now we have to do a better job helping them put it all together and read text."

The authors of the study also propose solutions to helping the low-performing students catch up. "We're probably spending too much time emphasizing basic skills for the low-achieving students," she (Rodgers) said, "when we should be giving them more opportunities to actually read text."

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