"Sometimes it is a challenge, but in Clay County, we know we don't have a lot of resources as far as funds go and we know there are economic challenges here, but it is not seen as a crutch. It's simply something we know exists, and we expect kids to achieve at high levels," Brown said. "We're struggling with funding like a lot of small rural counties, and digging out of a deficit, but it's not a barrier that can't be overcome."
In his State of the State address in February, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin pushed for extra focus on third-graders' reading skills, among other calls for education reform.
The state Board of Education now requires all new teachers to pass an assessment that "guarantees they possess the necessary skills to teach reading," state Department of Education spokeswoman Liza Cordeiro said.
The Department of Education has assembled the "PreK-3 Collaborative Initiative" -- a comprehensive plan for early childhood education involving several different organizations.
"As part of the comprehensive plan, the group will design a pre-K to second grade reporting system to track students' progress in the early grades. The system will allow schools to identify struggling students and intervene prior to the third grade," Cordeiro said. "The West Virginia Department of Education, the Board of Education and several other community groups acknowledge that student literacy is of paramount importance."
Further solutions suggested by West Virginia Kids Count include expanding the state's universal preschool program to include all three-year-olds and addressing chronic absences and summer learning loss.
Only six of the state's 55 school districts had more than half of their students reading proficiently by the end of the third grade: Clay, Putnam, Pendleton, Ohio, Brooke and Hancock counties.
The school district with the lowest percentage of fourth graders reading proficiently is Monroe County Schools, where 71.3 percent of students last school year scored poorly in the reading and language arts section of the WESTEST 2.
Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.m...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.