CHARLESTON, W.Va. — About 76 percent of West Virginia’s 4-year-olds participate in universal pre-kindergarten, State Superintendent Dr. Steve Paine during his State of Education address before the West Virginia Board of Education Thursday.
“Early learning continues to be a strength for us, which is critically important for children in poverty. If you look at our per capita income, for example, in the state, we’re probably 49th or 50th,” Paine said.
Paine said the American Institutes for Research (AIR) routinely ranks West Virginia in the lower half of the top 10 in terms of the state’s early education rankings.
“We appreciate the support of the legislature,” he said. “Awhile back, the legislature included 4-year-olds in the school-aide formula, which was significant because it provided a level of funding that was required to run a successful early learning program and we do really well in that regard.”
State aide is typically a challenge for West Virginia, not only for pre-K students but all grades, Paine said.
Public education funding, he said, was $11,705 per student for the 2017-2018 school year. Of that, only $4,004.56 was state aide. Another $6,954.44 came from state and federal grants, property taxes and excess levies, leaving over $1,000 per student unfunded in teachers’ retirement funds.
“Virginia’s higher, Ohio’s slightly higher, and we’re about comparable with Kentucky,” Paine said.
And it doesn’t help that enrollment numbers are dropping.
“When I was deputy superintendent in 2003, we had 284,000 students, and we’re down to 270,000 students,” Paine said. “We’re one of two states in the country that’s loss population, and that’s probably a very consistent parallel decrease percentage wise in the number of students that are in the state of West Virginia.”
However, there is good news for the Mountain State.
One, Paine says West Virginia saw a slight increase in National Assessment of Educational Progress scores in 2017.
In 2017, 35 percent of West Virginia’s fourth graders ranked at or above proficient in mathematics, compared to 33 percent in 2015, and 79 percent of students ranked as basic or above. Nationally 40 percent of fourth graders ranked at or above proficient.
In reading, 32 percent of fourth graders ranked at or above proficient, up from 30 in 2015, while 63 percent were basic or above. Nationally, 36 were ranked at or above proficient.
For eight graders, reading held steady at 28 percent at or above proficient, compared to the national ranking of 36 percent. In mathematics, 24 percent ranked at or above proficient, slightly above 21 percent in 2015.
“Increases on the NAEP don’t occur in large, incremental jumps, but when they occur they’re something to be pleased about,” Paine said.
Additionally, West Virginia’s graduation rate is continuing to increase. The current graduation rate is 89.4 percent, which places West Virginia third based on statistics in 2015-16 throughout the country.
“We can do better,” Paine said. “We can also do better because you might say we’re graduating a lot of kids but are they college and career ready? Do they require remediation when they go to college? And yes they do, so we have a lot of work to improve the quality of the programming and the levels of achievement of our kids when they graduate from high school. We have a lot of work to do, and we’re very open and transparent about that. We have a lot of work to do.”
One way of improving that is improving students’ performance in mathematics.
“We have some ideas because we are diving into the data and being very precise,” Paine said. “For example, did you know, the numbers of classrooms in algebra I and math I, the integrated math approach, that are being taught by non-certified teachers — 50 percent. We can’t get math teachers.”
Paine hopes one way to do that is to incentivize students to go into mathematics education.
“We don’t have a shortage with calculus teachers,” he said. “One percent of our classrooms are taught by non-certified calculus teachers. Just one percent. The problem is in algebra and geometry.
“I don’t know what it is, but I know doing the same thing we’ve always done is not going to yield different results. We need to do something better there.”