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Board updated on education reform

Aug. 15, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

CHARLESTON -- The West Virginia Board of Education was updated Wednesday on aspects of the massive education reform bill passed earlier this year, including one of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's key goals of having children read on their level by the end of third grade.

"We're focusing efforts on children to be able to read by third grade," said former state senator Lloyd Jackson, who is now a member of the board.

Jackson highlighted four strategies as part of those efforts, including the need to convince communities that there is an urgent problem while also providing the right tools to address it. He said high-quality, early childhood programs are critical, though West Virginia already has been doing that.

Chronic absenteeism also is a major issue during the Pre-K and early elementary years and is a focus of the governor's recently-appointed task force.

Jackson also showed a video produced by Horizons National, an educational summer enrichment program that serves low-income, public school students by partnering with educational entities.

Its leaders believe that summer learning loss is perpetuating the poverty problem because children from middle- and upper-class households have greater opportunities for continued learning during the summer months.

The video showed that children tend to learn at the same pace during the school year, but low-income students fall back during the summer, while middle- and upper-class children continue learning. By the fifth grade, it estimates that children in poverty may only truly be at a third-grade level.

"We have far too many kids in poverty," Jackson said after the video played.

He and others applauded teachers for making sure the pace of learning is the same, regardless of family income levels.

Jackson also said West Virginia should be encouraged because it has one of the best Pre-K programs in the nation in terms of access and curriculum.

"We've increased per-pupil spending when other states have cut back on early childhood," Jackson said, noting that the state currently meets eight of the 10 national quality benchmarks and could meet all 10 this year.

A release from the National Institute for Early Education Research in April commended West Virginia for increasing Pre-K funding and maintaining its ranking of eighth in the nation for resources dedicated to state Pre-K.

West Virginia continues to be one of five states at the top for Pre-K access for 4-year-olds, at 61-80 percent, according to the report.

State Superintendent James Phares and Donna Peduto, the director of operations for the Board of Education, said much of the reform legislation remains in planning committee or in the very early stages of implementation, including new hiring practices, county calendar flexibility, and efficiency evaluations of the Regional Education Service Agencies.

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