Nearly three-fourths of fourth-grade students in West Virginia do not read proficiently - and the situation has worsened, not improved, during the past decade, according to a national report.
While most states have improved fourth-grade students' scores on reading tests, West Virginia is one of four that have not, according to a report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
Reading is the basic skill students must acquire if they are to learn any other subject. It is bad enough that 73 percent of Mountain State fourth graders tested scored below proficient on reading tests - but much more discouraging is the number is worse than the 71 percent recorded in 2003.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin made reading - with specific attention to whether fourth graders are proficient - one of the keystones of an education reform law enacted last winter. Since then, West Virginians have received periodic reminders of how much work is needed to improve students' reading skills. The Casey Foundation report is just the most recent red flag.
Among the most intriguing aspects of the report is one that may give West Virginians reason for hope.
Educators are well aware that the most significant challenge they face is teaching children from low socio-economic backgrounds. More than any other factor, that often defines whether children succeed or fail in school.
Analysts responsible for the Casey Foundation report compared reading scores for students from lower-income families to those from more prosperous families. In West Virginia during 2013, 76 percent of fourth graders from lower-income families scored below proficient in reading, compared to 63 percent of those from higher-income families. That is a gap of 13 points - lower than for any other state.
In other words, West Virginia schools may be doing a better job of closing the gap between lower-income students and those from higher-income families. That is highly significant.
Still, the bottom line is that we West Virginians need to do a much better job of teaching our children to read.
Educators at both the local and state levels have much to do to implement last year's complex reform law. Clearly, improving reading skills needs to be moved to the very top of the priority list.