The Times West Virginian

Opinion

May 9, 2014

Strong efforts by teachers will show up in coming years

The timing of a report released this week that showed West Virginia high school seniors had the worst reading scores of students in 13 sampled states was unfortunate.

It coincided with National Teacher Appreciation Week.

So our state gets another “last place” distinction to go with so many other ones when it comes to education, health, poverty and social issues. We tend to focus on those “50th” placements. We point our fingers and blame people and things and circumstances beyond our control.

But we think it’s important to say just a few things about this latest report card from the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

• We volunteered to be assessed. We were just one of 13 states to do so. Why? We’re certain that it’s because in order to fix a problem, you need to understand a problem. So kudos to our education officials who wanted to see how our math and reading scores stacked up.

• West Virginia’s average reading score was up from the previous year. There was an improvement. It was up by one point, which the national report card doesn’t consider adequate improvement. But there was an increase.

• Children living in poverty is a growing and consistent problem in West Virginia. In addition to social, behavior and physical problems, a child living in poverty has a much higher chance of having academic issues, like untreated learning disabilities, lower achievement, less time to devote to studying and less emphasis on the value of education. One in three children under the age of 6 live in households with incomes below the federal poverty line. The statistic drops to one out of four, or 25 percent, for children 18 and under.

And as far as the report coming out the same week we’ve set aside to appreciate teachers, we believe this gives us even more of an opportunity to show teachers how much we actually do appreciate what they do day in and day out in the classroom.

Children carry the weight of the world in their backpacks. High school students don’t just walk into English class prepared to focus all their attention and brain power on the finer points of the plot of “The Great Gatsby” or comprehension of “Fahrenheit 451.” A good teacher will engage students to the point where they forget about how many “likes” they get on an Instagram post, the terrible argument they got into with their father that morning or that their mother’s mammogram came back with a shadow and she has to have follow-up tests.

And we appreciate that.

A good kindergarten teacher knows whether a child has been read to all his life, or whether books are about as available as disposable income in a home. That teacher will do everything possible to instill a love of reading in the child, provide books to take home and keep and to get him excited about reading.

And we appreciate that.

A good teacher accepts the challenge of 20 to 30 students crammed into a room with attention being drawn in 20 to 30 different directions and somehow manages to convey a message, teach a lesson, or offer information that could very well be used not only on an upcoming standardized test, but for the rest of a life. The good teachers know that they may not reach all 20 to 30 in a single period, but they may reach each and every one of those students in some way over the course of the semester or the year.

And we appreciate that.

A good teacher understands that through the third grade, children are learning how to learn. And that teacher does everything he can to reach each child in his classroom on their own level so they can be armed with the tools they’ll need to be successful as they make their way through the primary and secondary school system.

And we appreciate that.

A good teacher knows that she must not only “teach to the test” by arming her students with the information and the techniques they will need to perform well on standardized tests, but also inspire her students to want to reach their fullest potential outside of her classroom in subsequent grades and when they go on to universities and colleges and certificate programs.

And we appreciate that.

So, yes, a grim report about reading scores in the state of West Virginia came out this week. But honestly, we believe that it shows just how dedicated we are to the future of our students that we even participated in the study in the first place. And when you stop to look at all the obstacles that teachers in the Mountain State have to overcome when it comes to educating students, and showing improvement, even if it is marginal, how could you not appreciate teachers all the more?

Thank you to all the teachers of Marion County. Your efforts will pay off in dividends in the coming years, even if they aren’t very clear in this snapshot of time.

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