Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV


February 1, 2014

Reading proficiency: Virginia income gap a concern

— — When it comes to the early educational development of children, a strength in reading proficiency is of critical importance.

A love of reading will open many doors for youngsters as they progress through their school years, and later into adulthood. Simply put — children who read succeed in life.

But the latest report from the National Assessment of Educational Progress has found an alarming income gap disparity when it comes to reading proficiency among children in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The study found that by the time they have reached 8 years of age, many children — especially those living in low-income families — have not met the developmental milestones in reading proficiency that are essential for future success in school and in life.

Virginia is one of eight states with a family income-based gap of 34 percentage points or more between students’ proficiency on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the Associated Press reported. The study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that only one in five poor students were proficient or better on the fourth-grade reading assessment, compared to more than half of the students in high-income areas.

Connecticut had the highest income gap at 38 percentage points. And surprisingly West Virginia was ranked with the lowest gap, at 13 percentage points, according to the report.

Virginia Secretary of Education Anne Holton says officials must focus their attention on making sure the gains achieved by higher income students are shared across all income groups, including those low-income students who are falling behind in terms of reading proficiency.

Education officials consider a child’s fourth-grade reading level to be a key indicator in predicting how well students will do during the rest of their academic careers.

That’s why efforts must be made to reach and assist those low-income students who may be falling behind during this critical time in their early educational development.

There are many low-income families who are living right here in the coalfields of Southwest Virginia. That’s why it is important for local school divisions and educators to take note of this new study. And the report should be viewed as a call to action. All steps must be taken to reach these youngsters who are falling behind at a critical age.

Encouraging our children to read — every day — should be a priority for all parents, educators, concerned citizens and community leaders alike. All efforts must be made to improve the reading proficiency levels of students in our region.

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