Reading really is fundamental in life. Children without good reading skills are doomed to lag behind and perhaps fail altogether, in school.
Many educators seem to agree that third grade can be a crucial turning point. Children who cannot read "at grade level" when they leave third grade may never catch up.
For that reason, a report by the West Virginia Kids Count organization ought to distress every Mountain State resident.
Kids Count is a national organization focusing attention on issues of critical importance to children. The group's new report reveals percentages of children throughout the United States who read below what educators define as "proficient" by the time they reach fourth grade.
Seventy-three percent of West Virginia fourth graders score below "proficient" on reading tests. The national average is 68 percent.
Here in the Northern Panhandle, Brooke, Hancock and Ohio counties had some of the best scores in the state. But they were nothing about which to brag - in all three counties, nearly half the fourth graders are below proficient in reading.
Below-proficient percentages for Northern Panhandle counties were: Brooke, 47.12; Hancock, 49.56; Ohio, 45.26; Marshall, 60.89; Wetzel, 55.30; Tyler, 58.19.
Part of the education reform package enacted earlier this year at Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's recommendation is to emphasize reading - in the third grade. Clearly, the initiative needs to be a top priority throughout the state.
We have many truly good schools here in the Northern Panhandle - but much more needs to be done to ensure area children can read adequately when they leave third grade. Otherwise, we will, in effect, have given up on them before they get a good start in school.