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Sparking Early Literacy Growth

The WVPEC has embraced the challenge to improve West Virginia’s literacy levels by the end of third grade.  Statewide projects will test innovative strategies to help close disparity gaps among our youngest learners. 

Read more about project details.

56 percent of third graders did not receive a score of "proficient" or above on the most recent West Virginia General Assessment. 

However, this number masks the full story. Research reveals that  there are alarming disparities in proficiency rates among schools even in the same county that share comparable demographic, economic and rural compositions. Some West Virginia elementary schools boast of 90 percent reading proficiency rates while others stand at 25 percent.

The WVPEC wants 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.

That's why the WVPEC is partnering with the West Virginia Department of Education, the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation and Marshall University’s June Harless Center to improve literacy levels. 

Educators, innovators, local leaders, students, researchers and parents are taking part in our journey to reach grade level reading proficiency for all West Virginians through the Sparking Early Literacy Growth projects.


Chosen from a pool of 64 applications, nine projects have been selected by a committee of literacy experts to help close the literacy gap in West Virginia and improve young learners' reading proficiency rates by the end of the third grade. The projects will be funded by the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, totaling $400,000.

Selected projects will run through June 2022 and vary in approach and resolve. They include addressing low vocabulary rates, learning challenges in homes where English is a second language, difficulties transitioning from one grade to another or teacher preparation programs that may inadvertently contribute to students’ learning impediments.

get the facts

Reading proficiency by the third grade is a key milestone in every child’s learning journey. But there's a growing disparity among our early learners.

According to the National Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, disadvantaged children often do not have exposure to the reading and vocabulary that develops early language and cognitive skills, with 61 percent possessing no children’s books at home. By age two, these children are already behind their peers in listening and counting. By age four, they may hear as many as 30 million fewer words before reaching kindergarten. By age five, they may only recognize 9 letters compared to 22 among children raised in more affluent households.

These promising projects aim to break through these silos and reach as many of West Virginia’s most marginalized students as possible. 

sparking early literacy growth projects

Benedum Foundation Recipients

From the Northern and Eastern Panhandles, to the Potomac Highlands to north central and southern West Virginia, these innovative projects will take place in all corners of the Mountain State. Read more about the Benedum Foundation recipients.

Benedum Foundation Recipients

A few additional projects will be supported by the Steeley Foundation.

Steeley Foundation Recipients

"It’s undisputed among researchers and practitioners that reading proficiency by the third grade is a key milestone in every child’s learning journey, which is why the Benedum Foundation has taken on third grade reading proficiency as one of its 75th anniversary initiatives. There are serious achievement gaps between and among communities, student populations and grade levels. This effort is designed to test interventions that close these gaps. It is our ultimate goal to present promising practices, tested through these demonstrations, to policymakers that can be adapted to work for all students across the state." Jim Denova, WVPEC member and vice president of the Benedum Foundation

selection process - By the Numbers

Grant applications were submitted from 50 counties across West Virginia
Grant applications were reviewed by the selection committee of state literacy specialists
Finalist applications were chosen by the internal team
Winners have been selected by the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation