Report: Socio-economic status affects student achievement more than race, ethnicity

By Samuel Speciale, Education reporter

Poor students in West Virgina are at risk of starting school already behind and never catching up, says a new report released today.

According to the Kids Count Data Book, an annual report on child wellbeing produced by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, 32 percent of children in West Virginia under the age of six come from families with an income level below the federal poverty level and are academically disadvantaged.

The report, which details how income affects achievement, found that a student’s socio-economic status directly impacts their performance in school more than other factors like race or ethnicity.

This creates an achievement gap between poor and wealthier students, which the report says can be seen as early as 18 months when low-income toddlers are already several months behind their peers in vocabulary.

According to many education and financial experts, achievement gaps, if left unchecked, can persist on through elementary and high school and even into college and have lasting, negative affects on the state’s economy.

The report also said poor students are twice as likely to drop out of high school. The dropout rate in West Virginia hovers around 10 percent, down from 17 in 2005.

Despite persisting problems, the report indicates that West Virginia has improved in several factors over the last decade, especially in enrolling 4-year-olds in preschool. Education officials say increasing intervention efforts before a student reaches grade school significantly narrows achievement gaps.

While West Virginia’s preschool program is nationally recognized, the report says it could be even better if 3-year-old enrollment improved. Currently, only 20 percent attend preschool.

Because intervention is favored by education officials looking to improve achievement later in a student’s life, the report calls for greater investment in preschool and early childhood development programs like Head Start.

For its conclusions on child wellbeing, Kids Count used 11 indicators and compared them to numbers collected in 2005. Areas of study include percent of low birth-weight babies, infant mortality rate, child and teen death rate, preschool enrollment, percent of children under 6 with working parents, reading and math proficiency of fourth and eighth graders, teen birth rate, high school dropout rate, percent of children in poverty and percent of births to mothers without a high school diploma. All but the percent of low-weight births and infant mortality rate improved in the last 10 years.

On the wellbeing index, Putnam County came in first place while McDowell was last. Kanawha County, where 23 percent of children live in poverty, came in 31st. West Virginia is 37th among states and Washington, D.C.

Contact writer Samuel Speciale at or 304-348-4886. Follow him at