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West Virginia Public Education Collaborative leading efforts to improve third grade literacy rates in West Virginia

woman with short dark hair reads to children

WVU Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Maryanne Reed reads to children. The WV Public Education Collaborative, which is part of Reed's office, is working to increase childhood literacy levels in West Virginia by the end of third grade. (WVU Photo/Greg Ellis)

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Faced with a global pandemic that has closed schools and declining literacy numbers, the West Virginia Public Education Collaborative, housed in West Virginia University’s Office of the Provost, is taking on the challenge to improve West Virginia’s literacy levels by the end of third grade. 

In partnership with the West Virginia Department of Education, the WVPEC will develop a plan to increase the 2018-19 school year scores—56 percent of third graders failed to rate above the West Virginia General Assessment.  

“The WVPEC board and the West Virginia Department of Education have been examining West Virginia’s literacy data for quite some time, discussing the need to address major barriers to reading proficiency across the state,” said Donna Peduto, executive director of the WVPEC. “Now that we find ourselves neck-deep in a global pandemic where access to quality education has become incredibly challenging – especially in our rural, underrepresented communities – we fear that disparities in learning may be greater than ever.”

Following its charge to create a pipeline from educational and training opportunities to jobs, the WVPEC will be part of a three-year project to close the state’s academic achievement gaps in reading proficiency, and ultimately, help students land career opportunities that demand an increasingly higher level of educational attainment and skillsets. 

“We want to make sure every single West Virginia student has the opportunity to reach his or her full potential, and that starts with making sure our students have the reading skills that will set them on a pathway to lifelong success,” Peduto added.

To kickstart the process, the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation has provided a $200,000 grant over the next six months to support the WVPEC’s efforts. The West Virginia Department of Education will also be a partner, engaging in the work and providing input through all stages.

“The WVPEC and the Benedum Foundation have captured the momentum of the West Virginia Campaign for Grade-Level Reading’s third grade literacy work,” said West Virginia Superintendent of Schools W. Clayton Burch. “They are engaging state experts and leveraging the best research practices in effective ways. All of this will be shared with potential grant applicants who will design innovations to address early literacy gaps at the local level. The West Virginia Department of Education is excited about this important contribution to benefit our children from birth through third grade.”

Through the end of the year, the WVPEC-led team will coordinate a cross-section of experts to spearhead an early exploration of research and local data on reading proficiency, poverty and other socio-economic variables that will help pinpoint underserved areas with the highest needs. 

They will identify existing national and statewide efforts to improve literacy and child development from birth through third grade, researching what is working, what can be improved and how to implement strategies in West Virginia.

In addition, they will explore innovative practices from across the country ranging from family literacy initiatives, out-of-school reading programs, teacher quality improvement in early childhood and elementary school settings, activities and technologies that accelerate reading and advocacy efforts.

With numerous state and national programs focused on childhood literacy, the WVPEC aims to build on this momentum by recommending new statewide initiatives based on best practices, local data and educational materials that will be shared with the West Virginia Department of Education and regional partners. 

WVPEC will then release a Request for Proposals along with a compendium of resources, and it will host educational sessions for prospective applicants.  The Benedum Foundation plans to fund the most promising programs; those that address very specific causes of low literacy in very high need areas.

The Benedum Foundation has taken on third grade reading proficiency as one of its 75th anniversary initiatives. 

“There is a lot of momentum in the state around grade level reading, but there are specific areas of deficiency that we hope can be targeted by soliciting proposals of promising programs in high need areas,” said Jim Denova, WVPEC member and vice president of the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation. “Aspiring to grade level reading proficiency for all West Virginians calls for the engagement, coordination and cooperation of a number of different sectors, from health and social services, to grassroots groups and churches, to public schools and higher education.

“The WVPEC’s unique multi-institutional consortium of education leaders breaks through these silos and can focus on bringing together the best resources and minds to fund the necessary research, collect best practices and launch new efforts that close the gap for disadvantaged and ill-prepared students.”

Opportunities for both corporate and nonprofit support and engagement are forthcoming in the months to come. To learn more, visit



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