School reform in West Virginia has to start somewhere, and clearly, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and others involved in setting strategy were right to focus on younger children. But soon, a similar emphasis needs to be set for older students.
During his State of the State speech, Tomblin outlined a variety of education reform initiatives. Some, such as better work in career/vocational education, indeed were aimed at high school students. Most, however, appear to have the goal of ensuring younger children – even before they enter public schools – get a good basis for learning.
But one thing some people who look at education statistics notice is that often, gaps between academic achievement in the state and at the national level seem to increase as students grow older.
For example, during the most recent round of testing in the National Assessment of Education Progress, West Virginia fourth graders had an average score of 235 in mathematics, compared to the 240 national average. But West Virginia’s 12th graders’ average was 141, compared to the national 152.
Another indication reform is needed at the high school level becomes apparent when West Virginia students go on to higher education. Too many of them – as many as two-thirds, some college officials say – require remedial courses before they can move on to college-level studies.
More attention to early childhood education, including Tomblin’s emphasis on reading, certainly will help as students progress into high school. Again, however, there is a clear need to identify what we can do better for students after they overcome early barriers to success and move on to more challenging classrooms in the advanced grades.
That, too, should be a priority.