Report: WV kids face sliding reading, math scores

Nadia Ramlagan

Math and reading proficiency among West Virginia kids has worsened over the past five years, according to new data.

The latest Kids Count Data Book from the Annie E. Casey Foundation showed in 2022, 85% of the state’s eighth graders were behind in math and 78% of fourth graders were behind in reading. The number of young children not in school has also risen.

Kelly Allen, executive director of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, said there is an inextricable link between poverty and educational outcomes, noting the Mountain State continues to have one of the highest rates of child poverty.

“We know how connected those two things are,” Allen pointed out. “And, of course, how connected poverty is with later life outcomes in a lot of ways, around wages and earnings and future potential.”

Allen argued policies such as increasing access to low- or no-cost school meals, expanding access to reliable internet, tutoring and other community supports can better help children who have fallen behind.

Nationwide, in 2022, only 26% of eighth graders were at or above proficiency in math and less than a third of fourth graders were at or above proficiency in reading.

Allen added West Virginia’s ranking for child health and health insurance coverage is a bright spot in the data.

“I don’t think that was a coincidence, as in 2022 and 2023 we still had some of the pandemic-era protection around continuous health coverage for Medicaid,” Allen recounted. “We have 97% of kids covered by health insurance.”

Leslie Boissiere, vice president of external affairs for the Annie E. Casey Foundation, said compared with peer countries, the U.S. is not equipping its children with the problem-solving skills future employers will need.

“Our economy is propelled by a prepared workforce,” Boissiere contended. “In order to for our economy to work well, it’s important that we prepare young people with the skills that they need so that they are entering the workforce prepared.”

She added federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief grants, which expire in the fall, have been used by districts to pay school counselors, reading specialists and mental health professionals.

West Virginia has collectively received more than $1 billion for its schools through the program since the start of the pandemic.