Success Begins with Reading
by Dr. David Stewart State Superintendent of Schools

February 11, 2002

Today’s elementary classroom teachers face enormous challenges, but none more daunting or important than teaching our young people to read. Research tells us that when children become good readers in the early grades, they are more likely to perform well in other subjects. In other words, success in school begins with reading.  

Just over a year ago, the West Virginia Board of Education refined its education goals by reaffirming the importance of “readying children to learn” and “teaching all children to read.” We recognized that too many children enter public school without the stimulation and experiences they need to be academically successful; and too many students cannot read at or near grade level.  

The good news is that we are making solid progress on both these goals.  

In 1999, the West Virginia Department of Education launched its “Reading for All” initiative that focused on three phases: Learn to Read for grades kindergarten through four; Read to Learn for grades five through 12; and Read to Succeed which continues through adulthood. Each phase has three major components: professional development; instructional strategies; and family and community involvement.  

In an effort to reach teachers across the state, a 38-member cadre of exemplary reading educators was formed to implement the initiative. Since its inception, the cadre has provided training in all 55 counties. Their focus has been to provide teachers with information on the latest reading research as well as a variety of teaching techniques to meet the individual needs of learners.  

One measure of our progress in reading has been the steady increase in scores on the SAT-9, the state’s standardized test which assesses student performance in reading, mathematics and language arts. Since 1996, scores have continued to rise at every grade level in every subject. This is a testament to our extraordinary teaching corps who work hard to provide an environment that promotes language and learning for students.  

Parents, as well as teachers, can contribute significantly to a child’s reading success. As parents, you can help by understanding what teachers are teaching and by supporting that instruction at home.  

In a national report called, “Put Reading First,” leading reading experts suggest that if your child is just beginning to learn to read, you should observe teachers doing the following: teaching the sounds of language, teaching the letters of the alphabet, helping children learn and use new words, and reading to children every day. At home you can help by practicing the sounds of language while reading books with rhymes, short poems and songs. You may also help your child take spoken words apart and put them together; and practice the alphabet by pointing out letters wherever you see them.  

As your child advances with reading proficiency, continue to support them by rereading familiar books to build accuracy and comprehension, read together, visit the library, and consistently demonstrate that reading is important to you. Make reading a part of every day.  

For many years there was a war within the reading community about the most effective way to teach children to read. Reading authorities finally agreed that a balanced instructional approach worked best. So whether we talk about phonemic awareness, phonics or guided oral reading, experts all share one belief: a good teacher who instructs in a vibrant, imaginative and enthusiastic manner, and involved and caring parents who support the instructional process are key to reading success for young people.  

The West Virginia Board of Education will continue its sharp focus on reading until we save all our children from illiteracy. A literate West Virginia will positively impact the economic prosperity and global competitiveness of our people.  

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