The Times West Virginian

West Virginia

May 8, 2014

West Virginia students last in reading scores of 13 states

WASHINGTON — A report Wednesday shows West Virginia high school seniors had the worst reading scores of students sampled in 13 states last year — and were tied for worst in math.

The national assessment, known as the nation’s report card, did show that test scores had improved in West Virginia in recent years.

The average West Virginia math score was up four points from 2009 — one of only four states to show improvement over that period, along with Arkansas, Connecticut and Idaho. The state’s average reading score was also up, but just one point, which is not considered a significant difference in the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

The state tied with Tennessee for worst in math. West Virginia’s last-place finish in reading was just behind Tennessee, but the margin is not considered significantly different.

“We are optimistic about the statistically significant increase in math but we remain concerned that we are trailing the nation,” said Jim Phares, state superintendent of schools, in a statement to The Associated Press.

Phares said that the Department of Education, in conjunction with other state offices, has taken several steps aimed at boosting lagging student achievement, such as college transitional courses for seniors.

Other West Virginia results from the report:

• Just 28 percent of students performed at or above the National Assessment of Educational Progress proficient level, for reading, and only 14 percent did so for math.

• 70 percent of students performed at or above the NAEP basic level, and 55 percent for math.

Christine Campbell, president of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, said it was important to keep in mind the state’s low socioeconomic status.

“We need to focus on students’ social and emotional issues, as well as their academic needs,” she said.

Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, also cited poverty as a factor.

“All educators will tell you that the poverty level will have a direct reflection on the test scores,” he said.

Both union officials cited the state’s third-grade reading level initiative as a step to improve education, but also stressed the need to implement it correctly.

West Virginia was one of 13 states that volunteered to participate in the study. The other states were Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, South Dakota and Tennessee.

Former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise, now president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, commended the state for participating.

“Most importantly, for West Virginia and the rest of the country, is looking in the mirror and being willing to look realistically at what the numbers are, because that’s the first step you need to do in order to take the action,” Wise said. “You have to be aware and then you take the action.”

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