There is plenty of research demonstrating the importance of reading skills for students by the fourth grade. Students learn the building blocks of reading in grades one through three, but by the fourth grade they begin using those reading skills to learn other subjects.
According to Reading Partners, a children’s literacy nonprofit, “Studies have shown that children who cannot read at grade level by the start of the fourth grade are four times less likely to graduate on time than their grade-level peers—a startling statistic that shows the weight that early education carries for a child’s future success.”
Now, consider the test results of the just-released National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The nationwide test of 446,700 students at nearly 11,000 schools shows a decline in reading scores, with only 33 percent of fourth graders scoring at “proficient and above.”
West Virginia’s fourth grade reading scores were abysmal. Just 22 percent of fourth graders were proficient readers, the second lowest in the country after New Mexico at 21 percent and well below the national score of 33 percent.
The reading scores were equally bad at the eighth grade level. Again, just 22 percent tested proficient or better in reading. That was second lowest in the country after New Mexico at 18 percent and well below the national average of 31 percent.
The math scores were also terrible, across the country and in West Virginia. Thirty-six percent of fourth graders tested proficient or better in math, but in West Virginia just 23 percent were proficient. At the eighth grade level, just 15 percent of West Virginia students were proficient in math, compared with 26 percent nationally.
Once again, only eighth graders in New Mexico had worse scores.
Education officials believe the interruptions in the 2020 and 2021 school years had a lot to do with the poor results. “I know there are historic lows across the nation, and I’m not surprised,” said West Virginia Board of Education member and long-time educator Debra Sullivan on Talkline Monday.
“Missed instruction is impactful, and it has affected out West Virginia students, our United States students, and we must all work hard to ensure our students receive the necessary resources and support,” Sullivan said.
U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said the NAEP results are “appalling and unacceptable.” He said, “This is a moment of truth for education. How we respond to this will determine not only our recovery, but our nation’s standing in the world.”
Comprehensive test results are not the only indicator of student success, but they do provide an important appraisal of progress. These results show students are losing ground. That is particularly worrisome in West Virginia, where students already trailed their cohorts in most other states in the basics.
Think of all these West Virginia students who will be leaving the school system in a few years bearing a degree that is supposed to indicate they have mastered certain skills, yet they will be unable to perform rudimentary math or read and comprehend an instruction manual.
Yes, the pandemic had a significant impact on the test results, but they were poor before Covid; now they are worse. These results must be a call-to-action, in West Virginia and across the country, to reverse the slide.