Are West Virginia’s fourth graders “reading to learn?” That’s the question West Virginia KIDS COUNT poses in a new info-graphic prepared by WV Kids Count. The answer, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), is a very clear, “No.” More than seven in ten (73 percent) WV students are not reading proficiently at the end of third grade, which is five percentage points worse than the national average (68 percent). Research shows that three out of four of those students will remain poor readers throughout high school, and one in six will not graduate.
“We are failing our youngest children by not preparing them to be good readers and successful learners,” said Margie Hale, executive director of WV KIDS COUNT. “We can and must do better. We should be focusing on the early years, from birth through age three, when the building blocks of literacy are being laid and where we get the highest possible return on our investment. One important step we can take toward ensuring that our fourth graders are reading to learn is expanding West Virginia’s Pre-Kindergarten program to include both three- and four-year-olds.”
Why are third grade reading scores so important? Until the end of third grade, students are “learning to read,” but, from the fourth grade on, they are “reading to learn.” Fourth graders who can’t read well are at high risk of never catching up to their peers. In the “Reading to Learn?” info-graphic, KIDS COUNT proposes a number of solutions to ensure that West Virginia’s fourth graders start the school year “reading to learn.” Those solutions include:
• Developing an early care and education system that aligns programs for children from birth through third grade to improve reading proficiency;
• Expanding the state’s universal Pre-Kindergarten (Pre-K) program to include all 3-year-olds.
• Developing a comprehensive literacy plan designed to improve fourth grade reading;
• Enabling parents, families, and caregivers to help improve outcomes for their children;
• Encouraging community-wide action plans; and
• Creating and implementing solutions to address chronic absence and summer learning loss.
KIDS COUNT’s “Reading to Learn?” info-graphic identifies a number of risk factors for being a poor fourth grade reader and provides West Virginia data to show where the state stands on each.
Risk factors and where West Virginia stands are as follows:
• Mother’s education, WV Kids Count says one in five births is to a mother without a high school education (19 percent).
• Problems at birth, one in ten babies is low birth weight (9 percent)
• Low family income, one in four kids live in poverty (26 percent)
• Lack of high quality pre-school programs, one in five three year olds is enrolled in a pre-school program (21 percent)
• Poor nutrition, 1 in 4 households with children is “food insecure” (26 percent).
The “Reading to Learn?” info-graphic also includes a startling graphic that compares the percentages of proficient vs. non-proficient readers in each county and ranks them from best to worst. The percentages are based on the WV Department of Education’s 2011-12 fourth grade WESTest, which measures reading and language arts proficiency against the state’s standards. In only six of the state’s 55 counties were more than 50 percent of the students reading proficiently by the end of third grade. Clay County had the highest percentage of proficient readers (63 percent) and Monroe County had the lowest (29 percent).
The full KIDS COUNT info-graphic can be downloaded from the KIDS COUNT website at www.wvkidscount.org or on the KIDS COUNT Facebook page at www.facebook.com/westvirginiakidscount. Hard copies are available by calling 304-345-2101.