The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

October 2, 2013

Johnny doesn't read

The Register-Herald

— Johnny can’t read. Nor can Jill, Jane, Jerry, Jimmy, Jan or Julie.

These fictional children would be the seven out of 10 students in West Virginia who cannot read proficiently by the end of the third grade, according to a study conducted by National Assessment of Educational Process.

This appalling statistic was reported Tuesday by West Virginia KIDS COUNT, a group that studies the well-being of state children and builds advocacy alliances for them. The figures come from a study conducted by National Assessment of Educational Process and was based on 2011-2012 WESTEST scores of state fourth-graders.

Is everyone out there as aghast at this revelation as we are? Anyone who isn’t, should be.

KIDS COUNT Executive Director Margie Hale said, “We are failing our youngest children by not preparing them to be good readers and successful learners.”

We strongly agree with her assessment. Reading skills are the very cornerstone upon which all education is built.

Until third grade, kids are “learning to read,” said Hale. From fourth grade on, though, kids are “reading to learn.” A poor reader will have trouble acquiring new information at school.

The reasons these seven children can’t read are varied. And it can’t be laid solely at the feet of teachers.

Among risk factors are the mother’s education level (one in five births is to a mother without a high school education); problems at birth (one in 10 babies has low birth weight); low family income (one in four lives in poverty); lack of high-quality pre-school programs (one in five 3-year-olds is enrolled in a preschool program) and poor nutrition (one in four lives in a household that is “food insecure”).

We hope the new free school breakfast and lunch programs at schools can help to clear the last issue from above. Keeping female teenagers engaged in learning and keeping them in school should be a focus, as should better prenatal care.

Hale has recommended expanding the state’s pre-kindergarten program to include both 3- and 4-year-olds, a time when the “building blocks of literacy” are being laid. There has been discussion on this issue and it is clear that it should move forward.

The highest reading proficiency in West Virginia, 63.28 percent, is found in Clay County, according to the study. The lowest is in Monroe where only 28.67 percent are proficient in reading as they enter fourth grade.

No one should find either number acceptable.

West Virginia has hundreds of fine brains working around this state. They should be able to put them together to find a way to help these children learn, not only to read, but to understand and retain what they read.

The future depends on it.