The 2014 annual Kids Count report on West Virginia's education system paints a dismal picture for low-income students.

According to the 2014 West Virginia Kids Count Data Book, 38,000 of the state's youngest kids are at risk of starting school significantly behind their wealthier classmates and never catching up.

In the overall well-being of children in West Virginia according to Kids Count, Calhoun is ranked 37th in the 55 counties, one being the best ranked and 55 being the worst ranked.

The overall well-being is related to the sum standing of 11 core measures of children's well being.

Over well-being ranking in regional counties (1 best, 55 worst):

Gilmer - 14

Clay - 26

Ritchie - 27

Braxton - 33

Calhoun - 37

Wirt - 42

Roane - 45

West Virginia's best ranked counties, Putnam, Pendleton, Jefferson, Monongalia, Pleasants and Mineral.

West Virginia's worst ranked counties, McDowell, Fayette, Wyoming, Lincoln, Randolph and Lewis.

Kids Count says Calhoun is ranked 44th of 55 counties with children in poverty, indicating 30% of the county children are in the poverty level, an improvement from previous years. The state average is 25%.

Kids Count says the percent of Calhoun 4th graders who scored below proficient in math was 64%, the state ranking at 60.5%.

The percent of Calhoun 4th graders scoring below proficient in reading and language, Calhoun students were ranked at 58%, the state ranking at 58%.

Calhoun ranks high in graduation rates, with a low number of high school dropouts, ranking 17.

56% of Calhoun children under six living in families with parents in the labor force, the county ranking high at 16th in the state with working parents.

There are 500 children under age six in Calhoun, according to Kids Count.

"We know it is income that makes a difference between poor performance and good performance," said Margie Hale, Executive Director of Kids Count.

According to the report, one in three children below the age of six lives in poverty in West Virginia. There is a 24% gap between low-income 4th graders who are not proficient in reading and their wealthier classmates.

"We all want the best for every child born in West Virginia, no matter what the family's income. Yet we know that socio economic status accounts for more of the achievement differences in language, vocabulary and other academic skills than any other factor by far," said Hale. Educators say gaps in achievement can be seen as early as 18 months old, when low-income toddlers are already several months behind their peers in terms of their vocabularies, and it persists throughout elementary school, middle school, high school and college.

Hale says there are solutions to closing the achievement gap. Investments in high-quality childcare for children between birth to three-years-old and increases to minimum wage are among the best tools.

"The biggest advantage that preschoolers have…is that language development, they are being talked to and they are being asked to express ideas," said Ashley Switzer, a pre-school teacher at Piedmont Elementary School.

In five West Virginia counties, including Calhoun and Roane, early-childhood education intervention has been provided by a internationally recognized program Save-the-Children, but Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has used his line-item veto to strike its budget.

See also GOV. TOMBLIN CUTS SAVE-THE-CHILDREN FUNDING - Calhoun-Roane Programs Affected

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