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KUSA - A study showing low reading levels among minority boys in the United States spawned a new initiative by the White House Thursday. In Colorado, low proficiency scores are prevalent in both male and female African American and Hispanic students.

President Obama rolled out the "My Brother's Keeper" initiative Thursday. It was in response to a study that revealed 86 percent of black boys and 82 percent of Hispanic boys [are] reading below proficiency levels by the fourth grade, according to a White House press release. Meanwhile, 58 percent of white fourth-grade boys are reading below academic expectations.

"There's an interesting way of looking at it," Phyllis Jordan with The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading said in a phone interview. "If you flip it around and say 'who is reading at grade level?' Then white fourth-grade boys are three times more likely to be reading proficient than their African-American counter parts and more than two times as likely as their Hispanic counterparts."

Although the White House initiative focuses on fourth-grade boys, both genders are suffering.

"Looking at the National Assessment of Education Progress, also known as the nation's report card, in 2013, black students have an average reading score that is 32 points lower than white students; Latino students had a reading score that's 23 points lower in the fourth grade," Denver School Board member Barbara O'Brien said.

Unfortunately, Colorado's fourth graders are scoring in line with the national average.

A study of fourth graders conducted by the Annie E. Casey Foundation in 2013, and released in late January, revealed that among Colorado's fourth graders 81 percent of African-American students and 77 percent of Hispanic students are reading below standards as opposed to 48 percent of their white cohorts.

There are local Colorado programs working to improve reading scores.

"Two specific things that we do are called Colorado Reading Corps, which we do with AmeriCorps in 26 schools," United Way director of marketing Jennifer Morris said. "We do something else called Power Lunch, which is for third graders."

During Power Lunch, "corporations go into classrooms once a week and read with the kids. The kids read with someone called a buddy and there is one buddy per student. Right now, we are working with 11 companies that have adopted DPS schools," Morris said.

Younger readers can benefit from the United Way's Social Literacy fund, which "funds early literacy programs to help develop pr- literacy skills in the young kids, birth to 8 years old," Morris said.

Despite these programs and initiatives, Colorado and the nation have a long way to go to insure our future leaders are great readers.

"The reality is that far too many children of all races and genders are not reading at proficiency," Jordan said. "That third grade point is really important, because kids need to master reading by then."

"You spend the beginning learning to read and after third grade, you begin reading to learn," she added.

By Summer Nettles

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