A new report shows that more than seven in 10 West Virginia students are not reading proficiently by the end of third grade.
West Virginia Kids Count said an astounding 73 percent of students heading into the fourth grade are not prepared for reading to learn. Research shows that three out of four of those students will remain poor readers throughout their schooling, and that one in six will not graduate high school.
West Virginia ranks five percent below the national average, which holds at 68 percent.
Margie Hale, Executive Director of WV Kids Count said, "We are failing our youngest children by not preparing them to be good readers and successful learners. We can and must do better."
Hale suggested focusing on the early years of life, from birth to age three when the building blocks of literacy are being laid down. Hale also suggested expanding West Virginia's pre-kindergarten program to include three and four-year-olds.
Other suggestions include developing a comprehensive literacy plan to improve fourth grade reading; enabling parents, families and caregivers to improve outcomes for their children; encouraging community-wide action plans; and creating and implementing solutions to address chronic absence and summer learning loss.
Studies measure reading levels at the end of third grade because until then, students are "learning to read." After that point, students will be "reading to learn."
The study shows low-income children are affected most. The report said 83 percent of fourth graders in low-income families have reading skills that are below proficient, while only 55 percent of fourth graders in moderate and high-income families are below proficient.
The same report said 83 percent of low-income kids are at risk of not graduating because they cannot read proficiently by the end of third grade.
Locally, Ohio (45.26 percent), Brooke (47.12 percent) and Hancock (49.56 percent) Counties rank the highest, taking the fourth, fifth and sixth spots, respectively. Wetzel County (55.30 percent) ranks 24th in the state; while Tyler (58.19 percent) and Marshall (60.89 percent) rank the lowest, taking the 33rd and 38th spots, respectively.
Students in Clay County are reading most proficiently at the fourth-grade level, with only 36.72 percent of students at a non-proficient reading level, while Monroe County ranks the worst in the state, with 71.33 percent of students not reading proficiently.
Those scores are according to the fourth grade WESTest2 reading and language arts scores for the 2011-2012 school year.
You can find more information on www.wvkidscountfund.org.