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Kids Count report ranks W.Va. as one of worst in education

By Megan Workman

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- With nearly four out of five eighth-grade students who are not proficient in math, West Virginia received one of the worst education rankings in the country, a national report being released today shows.

Nationwide, the percentage of eighth-graders who are not proficient in math decreased from 72 percent in 2005 to 66 percent in 2011, according to the report.

West Virginia ranks 47th in the nation in education, according to The Annie E. Casey Foundation's annual Kids Count Data Book.

Arizona, Mississippi, New Mexico and Nevada join West Virginia as the five states ranked weakest for education.

The report ranks states on 16 indicators of a child's wellbeing, a change from previous annual rankings that based reports on 10 indicators. Overall this year, West Virginia ranks 39th for children's wellbeing. 

The 16 indicators are organized into four categories: education, economic wellbeing, health, and family and community.

The most surprising ranking of the four categories is the state's education ranking, said Margie Hale, executive director of the West Virginia Kids Count Fund.

Nearly three out of four fourth-grade students are not proficient in reading in the state, a striking statistic that must improve, Hale said.

When comparing a six-year period from 2005 to 2011, fewer fourth-graders scored proficient in reading in 35 states and the District of Columbia, including West Virginia. The state dropped from 74 percent proficient in 2005 to 73 percent last year, according to the report.

"Education is the worst ranking of any domain [in the report] and we at Kids Count do not believe that West Virginia can move out of these bad numbers until it makes a significant investment in young children," Hale said Tuesday.

"We know from economists that investing in young children birth to 3-years-old has the biggest investment than any other investment the state could make. I think one of the reasons we don't do this is because the payoff doesn't come in the election cycle. The payoff comes years later."

The payoff is big, Hale said, in terms of kids finishing school, not getting married too soon and not getting into trouble with the law.

West Virginia's ranking in education is an indication that the state needs to start educating kids earlier -- between birth and age 3, Hale said.

If a child cannot read by third grade, they are set up to fail, Hale said. Up to that point in a child's education, they have been learning to read and then reading to learn, but it starts with early childhood education, she said.

The number of children not attending preschool increased in the state from 64 percent in 2008-2010 to 65 percent in the recent report. Only Arizona (68 percent) and North Dakota (67 percent) rank worse than West Virginia.

"It's a very telling statistic. We're not talking about little schools, we're talking about enrichment activities, where kids get a lot of love, structured play and they are read to," Hale said. "These are the kinds of things that happen at early childhood developments."

Hale said Kids Count is currently working on improving the quality of programs for children.

In 2009, state lawmakers passed legislation to set up a framework for a quality-rating and improvement system (QRIS) for child care, but didn't provide funding to start the program, a grassroots campaign that will begin next month, Hale said.

The voluntary system would rate the state's child care programs and give the programs incentives to get better. Child care centers would get varying levels of reimbursement -- based on their quality rating -- for taking care of low-income kids.

Other financial incentives would include grants and scholarships to increase teacher training, with hopes of eventually improving quality.

"People need to put pressure on the administration to invest in early childhood [education]. They need to put pressure on the education system to do better," Hale said.

The report also shows that in the three other categories, West Virginia was ranked:

  • 40th in economic well-being
  • About 144,000 kids (37 percent) in the state had parents without secure employment in 2010, a 16 percent increase - and representing about 22,000 children -- in the two-year period. Nationally, one-third of America's children had parents without secure employment -- a 22 percent increase from 2008 to 2010.

  • 33rd in family and community
  • West Virginia has the nation's highest percentage of teen births, which has risen 16 percent from 2005 to 2009. Nationwide, the rate has fallen 1 percent.

  • 31st in health
  • Only 5 percent of the state's children do not have health insurance, compared to 8 percent nationwide.

    For more information call West Virginia Kids Count Fund at 304-345-2101 or visit wvkidscountfund.org.

    Reach Megan Workman at megan.workman@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113.


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