CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A national report released this week bungled the portion of its statistical analysis that shows poor preschool participation in West Virginia, according to the director of a national research institute.
"They are misleading," said Steve Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University. "They're very misleading because they mix two different (sets of data)."
According to the Kids Count Data Book, an annual report produced by the Annie E. Casey Foundation that examines child well-being, 65 percent of 3- and 4-year-olds in West Virginia are not enrolled in preschool.
That's considerably worse than the national average of 53 percent. It ranks West Virginia 47th in the nation for pre-school enrollment.
Those numbers are similar to ones compiled by Barnett's institute, which only researches state-funded pre-kindergarten programs. However, Barnett believes the Kids Count data includes enrollment figures for private pre-k programs in some of the other states.
He cited North Dakota, the 48th-ranked state in the Kids Count data, in particular: The Kids Count data states 67 percent of 3- and 4-year-old children in North Dakota are not enrolled in preschool.
"They don't have a (public) preschool program," Barnett said.
That means private programs must have been included in North Dakota's numbers, Barnett argued. However, he said it doesn't appear they were included in West Virginia's numbers.
"They're not doing apples to apples," Barnett said.
Clayton Burch, executive director of the state Department of Education's office of early learning, agreed.
While most of the data — statistics on reading and math proficiency show West Virginia students below national averages — was not a surprise for the education department, Burch said he and his colleagues had been under the impression they were doing a good job with the state pre-k program.
"My staff was the first to come to me and say, 'Have you seen this?' " Burch said of the Kids Count data.
According to the most recent report from Barnett's institute, 33.6 percent of the state's 3- and 4-year-olds are enrolled in a state pre-k program, good enough for fourth best in the nation.
West Virginia ranked fifth nationally in pre-k access for 4-year-olds, seventh in access for 3-year-olds and eighth in state spending per child enrolled in a program.
In Barnett's opinion, West Virginia is doing a good job.
The way in which Kids Count accumulated its data could have led to the discrepancy, he said. Kids Count uses the American Community Survey, a never-ending community survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau.
There's no audit of those results to ensure they're accurate, Barnett said, and they could include any assortment of private programs.