Early Childhood Guide: The state of Vermont’s children

Each year, Building Bright Futures and Vermont’s Early Childhood Data and Policy Center release a report on the well-being of young children and families in Vermont. “The State of Vermont’s Children: 2023 Year in Review” includes data specific to Addison County as well as a wealth of statewide data. The report also features the 2024 Policy Recommendations from Vermont’s Early Childhood State Advisory Council Network on how best to improve outcomes for young children and their families.

Spotlight on Third Grade Reading Levels

At recent meetings of the Addison County Early Childhood Regional Council, one set of data from “The State of Vermont’s Children” has come up more than any other: our area’s third grade reading levels. In Addison Central School District, 48.7% of all students and 26.3% of historically marginalized students were reading at or above a proficient level in spring 2022. In Mount Abraham Unified School District, these figures were 51.7% of all students and 26.3% of historically marginalized students, and in Slate Valley Unified Union School District, 33.3% of all students and 10.5% of historically marginalized students were proficient or above in reading. 

Third grade reading proficiency is low not just in Addison County, but across Vermont. Statewide, 41.17% of all students and 25.3% of historically marginalized students were proficient or above. The numbers may not be a fully accurate measure of the reading ability of Vermont’s third graders, however. Data collection was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021. The Vermont Agency of Education notes that in 2022, “there were pandemic-related challenges, such as educator shortages leading to insufficient resources to properly administer the assessments and the need to balance academic assessment with critical activities related to students’ social emotional well-being. These issues may have impacted student performance or test participation, which makes comparing 2022 data to previous years far more difficult.”

Poverty and a Living Wage

In 2022 (the most recent year for which this data was available), 23.4% of Addison County’s families with children under 12 were living below the Federal Poverty Level, down from 30% in 2017. State-level data also show a decrease in the percentage of Vermont families with children under 12 living in poverty, from 17% in 2015 to 13% in 2020.

These figures don’t tell the whole story, however. In 2023, the Federal Poverty Level for a family of four was $30,000. Two adults working at Vermont’s minimum wage of $13.18 make $54,828 a year, but the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s living wage calculator shows the necessary annual income to meet the basic needs of an Addison County household with two adults and two children (before taxes) in 2023 was $103,680. There are many families who are not classified as “living in poverty” under federal standards who nonetheless struggle to make ends meet.

As we observe The Week of the Young Child, I encourage parents, educators and anyone else who’s invested in the well-being of Vermont’s children to check out “The State of Vermont’s Children: 2023 Year in Review,” along with the many other early childhood resources at Addison County Early Childhood Regional Council meetings are open to the public and are held on the second Friday of each month. We often meet via Zoom, but our May 10 and June 14 meetings will be in person. I hope to see you there! To learn more, feel free to contact me at 802-377-0119 or [email protected].

Darla Senecal is the Building Bright Futures Regional Manager for Bennington, Rutland and Addison Counties.

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