Early learning study results shared at W.Va. Board of Education meeting

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – As part of the West Virginia Board of Education (WVBE) May meeting, the West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE) Office of Early and Elementary Learning presented findings of a five-year longitudinal study focused on the quality of early learning in West Virginia.

In partnership with the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) and Marshall University, the study was designed to examine the effectiveness of West Virginia’s pre-k program and early learning grades, and to understand the extent to which initial benefits result in persistent education advantages and assess the quality of educational experiences of children through grade 3. The study occurred between 2015 and 2020 and included seven counties where lower pre-k participation rates were evident: Fayette, Greenbrier, Kanawha, Nicholas, Putnam, Roane and Wood counties.

Results from the five-year study affirm that West Virginia remains a national leader in providing high-quality pre-k programs. Child outcome and classroom data from the study illustrate positive impacts of pre-k programs on children’s learning and development, especially in literacy and math at kindergarten entry. Significant gains were noted in literacy (letter-word) and language (passage comprehension). These advantages are clear in comparison to children who did not participate in West Virginia pre-k. The positive association between pre-k participation and executive functioning was also evident, especially for children from low-income families. Children who attended pre-k retained some advantages through kindergarten. Most noted advantages at the end of kindergarten were present in math.

“While not entirely surprising, the results from the West Virginia Early Learning Longitudinal Study solidifies what we suspected about the quality and services provided by our state’s early learning programs,” said State Superintendent W. Clayton Burch. “We now have data to illustrate the imperative need to continue our focus and supports on coaching and strengthening instructional supports in pre-k through grade three. We know the first years of children’s schooling provide critical foundations for learning that impact them throughout their entire lives.”

To review the full synopsis of the study, visit the WVDE Early and Elementary Learning website

In addition to these findings, the national Campaign for Grade-Level Reading (CGLR) recently recognized Cabell and Fayette counties as 2021 Bright Spots for exceptional efforts to close the literacy achievement gap among young learners during the COVID-19 pandemic. Statewide, the campaign provides a comprehensive approach to support local efforts to increase literacy proficiency by the third grade. This school year, due to the pandemic, counties had to pivot from their original action plans and respond to unique needs of the birth through grade 3 community. Both Cabell and Fayette counties recalibrated their plans quickly.

In Cabell County, the “Eat Awesome Cool Bus” is a converted retired school bus that was refurbished by Cabell County Technology Center students. The bus now operates as a Wi-Fi hotspot and can be utilized to deliver meals when needed. The county was recognized for this initiative in the areas of addressing student meals and student health; and supplying technology supports.

Students in Fayette County have received services in the forms of drive-by tutoring, take-home taste tests of local farmer-provided fruits and vegetables, and the employment of six new counselors and social workers to address social-emotional well-being. Fayette County was recognized by the national Campaign in the areas of addressing student meals and student health, providing tutoring supports and supplying technology supports.

Additionally, the WVDE will once again offer books to early learners through the Blue Ribbon Book Club. This collaboration is between the Department, The Dollywood Foundation and the June Harless Center at Marshall University. Between June and July 2021, four books will be provided at no charge to every child entering grades 1 through 3 in the upcoming school year. Teachers in these grades will also receive these books so they can provide lessons next school year based on what children have read over the summer, in addition to summer learning programs serving children in these grades.

These achievements align with the rankings released last month from the NIEER State of the Preschool Yearbook, which indicated West Virginia is still considered a leader in pre-k access for 4-year-olds and quality standards.

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