W.Va. children at risk for starting school behind, according to KIDS COUNT report

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. – West Virginia KIDS COUNT released their annual data book Tuesday that stated “one in three West Virginia children (32%) are at risk for starting school behind and never catching up.”

The report said 38,000 of West Virginia children, under the age of six, lived in a family with an income below the poverty line. This put the state’s youngest children at risk for starting school behind their wealthier classmates.

The gaps in achievement were seen in infancy, as early as 18 months old, and persisted throughout elementary school, middle school, high school, and college.

Specifically, the data book stated there was a 24% gap between low-income fourth graders who are not proficient in reading compared to their wealthier classmates.

Doddridge County had the largest reading proficiency gap, at 44%, between poor and non-poor students. Other counties that listed large gaps included Tucker at 37%, Calhoun at 33%, Monroe at 33%, and Marion at 32%.

KIDS COUNT Executive Director Margie Hale said some counties will see a change in their ranking because the organization added new indicators to this year’s data book.

The indicators included domains of a child’s life in health care: such as low birth-weight babies and the infant mortality rate, education trends: such as four year olds enrolled in Pre-Kindergarten, and economic facts: such as children living in poverty.

Hale said poverty in the home has an effect on a child’s learning achievement compared to children who come from wealthier homes.

“Parents have long hours and tiring work. There’s not a lot of opportunity for play. The stress levels are really different. Now, if you’re in a middle class home, then things are quite as stressful and there is a lot of talking going on. The child models that,” said Hale.

Hale said the state released a report with how to move forward with early childhood development, but could not receive the funds. She said they have been trying to get early childhood programs on board for 22 years.

“The only one that happened is four-year-old Pre-K, which is great, but we need to go lower, because they start getting behind in infancy,” said Hale, ” It would be the greatest investment in economic growth that the state could make.”

Hale said program funding would create hope for children statewide.