The Times West Virginian

November 15, 2013

Shift from learning to read to reading to learn key milestone for young students

Times West Virginian

— Think about the number of times you read throughout the course of a day.

Sure, you’re reading these words right now. But think about all the other times you’ll look at a group of what otherwise would just be a jumble of letters and actually comprehend what they mean: a menu while you’re having lunch; a text message from your son or daughter; emails at work; instructions to put together a new toy for your grandchild.

Now think about how difficult those tasks would be if you couldn’t read.

Reading is a vital skill. It’s also one that, if taught at an early age, research shows will have lasting benefits.

That’s what makes West Virginia’s decision to join the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading so important.

On Wednesday, the West Virginia Board of Education approved the state’s participation in the program, which is a national initiative that focuses on ensuring that children in low-income families are reading at grade level by the end of third grade.

It was a smart move, especially considering that a recent West Virginia KIDS COUNT report found that seven in 10 children can’t read proficiently by the end of third grade. It said three-fourths of those children will remain poor readers throughout high school, and one in six won’t graduate.

Participating in the campaign is also in line with Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s education goals, which include having all third-graders finish that year reading at grade level.

Campaigns like this one are working to do just that.

As the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading states on its website, “Research shows that proficiency in reading by the end of third grade enables students to shift from learning to read to reading to learn, and to master the more complex subject matter they encounter in the fourth grade curriculum. Most students who fail to reach this critical milestone falter in the later grades and often drop out before earning a high school diploma. Yet two-thirds of U.S. fourth-graders are not proficient readers, according to national reading assessment data.”

State education leaders are taking the steps to ensure our students are stronger readers, and we hope the state’s application to the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading is approved, which would mean West Virginia would be one of only three states to implement the policy across all school districts statewide.

The state’s participation will help prepare third-graders not just for their next steps academically, but will help set them up for even more success — not only in the classroom, but in their future careers.

As West Virginia Board of Education president Gayle Manchin pointed out, one of the most important factors in student success is the ability to read.

“A 2011 study documented the impact of reading proficiency on staying in school. Ninety-six percent of students who were proficient in reading in third grade graduated from high school,” Manchin said in a news release. “Reading proficiency is also linked to student self-esteem and disciplinary action which indirectly shapes educational achievement.”

We can’t stress enough just how important reading is, and any campaign designed to help students become more proficient readers is something worth pursuing.