When it comes to the issue of public education, a national movement has emerged focusing on grade level reading proficiency, particularly at the third grade level.
At the Education Alliance summit Nov. 5, that particular issue was heavily highlighted and discussed. The same issue was brought before lawmakers in Education Subcommittee A Dec. 9 during the December interim legislative session.
Through his early learning and literacy report, Clayton Birch explained why the third-grade reading initiative is important to the Mountain State.
While every milestone is important, Birch said third grade is particularly important.
"There's a national movement around third-grade reading and, not that it's the only milestone, but it is a crucial milestone," he said.
If children miss that target, Birch said, they will not be on track for college or career readiness or for graduation.
While Birch said many people may agree with that analysis, the problem is getting them to understand what it takes to reach that target of improvement.
So what has been done to help people understand what it takes to get there?
Over the past 18 months, Birch and others have been forming a model plan that builds on universal pre-K and shifts the sole responsibility off the shoulders of the third-grade teachers.
When discussing the details of grade level reading proficiency in the Mountain State, Birch said it isn't "just a third-grade reading problem" but "a crisis for the entire state."
For many years, there has been stagnation and a lack of growth and movement regarding this particular issue, he said.
Not addressing and improving reading level proficiency will result in future economic problems, Birch said.
"All the issues we're hearing today, they will continue."
In January, West Virginia, along with Arizona and Alabama, will join the national campaign for grade level reading as a state.
"You're putting the money where your mouth is and saying, ‘We're willing, as a state, to take on this challenge and also willing to show the measurement,''' Birch said. "We will make ourselves a 2020 target to say we will measure improvement."
Through the campaign, the Mountain State will be asked to improve on several areas that impact the third-grade milestone, he said.
Three critical areas for improvement are:
Although Birch said research shows teachers do a good job progressing children through the school year, there is a leave of absence once summer rolls around and children fly out of the classroom for summer break.
"It doesn't matter how great of a job a teacher does, those children leave for three months," Birch said. "Children that are non-poverty tend to still gain up to a month to two months before they enter the next year. Children of poverty tend to slide."
The kickoff date for the campaign is set for Jan. 15, 2014. Six states will be represented, but West Virginia will be one of three to take on the grade level reading initiative challenge as a state.
"Six states are represented but many states have a district or maybe a city that has taken on the challenge," Birch said. "We're the third, as a state, to take on the challenge."