Data released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation in its Kids Count Data Book rank Georgia as 42nd in the nation for child well-being.
That’s up one place from last year’s data, but down six places from the year before.
The data also show the number of children living in poverty has increased 35 percent since 2005, but a number of other indicators of well-being have improved in that same period.
The data showed that, since 2005, more fourth-graders are able to read at grade level and, since 1990, more children are living in homes in which at least one family member has a high school diploma.
Area school officials say that, since the foundation began publishing the data book in 1990, schools have placed an increasing emphasis on graduation rates, early literacy and learning supports for children living in poverty.
In 2005, only 26 percent of Georgia fourth-graders could read at grade level, but that number has risen to 34 percent this year.
Will Schofield, superintendent of schools for Hall County, said the district places heavy emphasis on its literacy goals.
“For the last eight years, our No. 1 strategic goal has been to ensure that children read at or above grade level by the end of third grade,” he said, adding that ensuring literacy helps to avoid problems with learning later on. “You’ve got to learn to read so you can read to learn,” he said.
He said the district also has a plan in place for helping students graduate.
“In spite of the fact that 60 percent of our students qualify for free and reduced lunch, our graduation rate is about 7 percent above the state average,” he said.
He said the district’s system of learning supports has contributed to its graduation rate, and that programs such as the child care provided for young mothers at Lanier Career Academy allow students to continue their schooling even when their situations make it more difficult.
Superintendent Wanda Creel said Gainesville City Schools also uses learning supports and career pathways to improve the likelihood of graduation for its students.
“Some of the plans include making sure that our students are connected with our career pathways,” she said. “Not only does that give a focus for our students, but it helps with engagement.”
Creel said the district also provides
enrichment and tutoring for at-need students during the school day, and works to make its high school campuses accessible. She said the district also monitors achievement so it can find more ways to improve.
“We’re really delving into the data to find the areas we can work on with instruction, with assessment and collaborative planning with teachers,” she said. “One of the things that is powerful about our schools is the focus at the district level and at the school level on learning supports. (The district) has that as an integral part of the discussion at every level.”
Schofield says the percentage of children living in poverty may have increased as a result of the economic downturn that began in the late 2000s.
“What we’ve seen in the last five years is a pretty significant uptick in the amount of situational poverty, people who have not experienced poverty before,” he said. “It’s a little different than what we’ve seen historically.”
He said children from families who have been driven into poverty by the recession often enter school with a different set of challenges than children whose families have always been in poverty.
“You almost have to look at it through two different lenses,” he said.
He said children whose parents or guardians have always been in poverty are more likely to enter school with limited language skills.
“What we do is try to expose them overwhelmingly with literacy environments,” he said.
The complete 2014 Kids Count Data Book is available online through the Georgia Family Connection Partnership at www.gafcp.org.