by Erin Beck, Kids’ Health Correspondent

The West Virginia Legislature may consider allocating funding toward assistant teachers for first and second-grade classrooms during the upcoming legislative session, should lawmakers follow the recommendations of the West Virginia Department of Education.

The Legislature met for interim meetings Sunday through Tuesday. In a presentation before the Joint Standing Committee on Education Monday, West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Clayton Burch provided lawmakers with a report on early childhood education.

He told lawmakers about the West Virginia Early Learning Longitudinal Study (2015-2020), which found that while West Virginia’s universal pre-K program is successful, classroom instructional quality in first grade is “sub-par.”

He recommended a three-year plan to phase in an assistant teacher for each first and second-grade class that has more than 12 kids enrolled. He suggested a new law to take full effect July 1, 2024.

He said schools would need about 1,800 assistant teachers, which would cost about $68 million.

Researchers reviewed 135 classrooms across the state during 2018-2019. They reviewed emotional support, classroom organization and instructional support. According to the report, “by the end of Grade 2, most participants had lost the gains they had experienced during West Virginia Universal Pre-K and kindergarten in the areas of vocabulary development, mathematics, and social/emotional development (including executive functioning). Similarly, the Grade 2 classroom observations showed somewhat similar, though not quite as low, results regarding Instructional Quality.”

The report referenced research saying specially-trained assistant teachers could help children dealing with social and emotional problems stemming from trauma. But some lawmakers pointed out that the state is already suffering from a teacher shortage.

The legislative session begins in January.

Erin Beck is our Kids’ Health Correspondent. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter

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