​​​BUFFALO, N.Y. — ​Teachers are sounding the alarm about what they are calling a literary crisis.

A 2019 state education statistic reveals only around 25% of Buffalo students are reading at their grade level. Leaders say the numbers drop even more for Black students.

This has prompted a partnership between the Western New York Literacy Initiative and national figures in the movement to discuss why literacy rates have fallen so low and what can be done to fix it.

The issue is not wholly unique to Buffalo. It’s similar in Rochester and school districts across the state and nation.

Experts say students must learn how to better understand what they're reading, and to build better vocabulary.

While the pandemic didn't help improve the numbers, educators say COVID-19 is not the sole reason for the decline.

"They have been stagnant or declining for over 20 years now, so it's just not the pandemic,” Natalie Wexler, National Literacy Leader, said. “The roots of this problem go a lot deeper than that."

"When we're navigating challenges in society children bring so many barriers to learning with them, but we can get this one right,” Dr. Tracy White Weeden, Neuhaus Education Center president and CEO, said. “We can get literacy right and reading right for every child. And then we can deal with the other barriers to learning children grapple with."

Experts agree parents need to take a more active role in the solution, along with school districts.