Fewer than half of West Virginia public schools have met goals for both student learning and improvement, according to a report released last week.
Proficiency tests, student growth measures, achievement gap calculations, and factors such as attendance and graduation rates factored into the schools’ evaluations, said the state Department of Education. Out of 650 schools, only 299 schools met one or both of the growth and learning performance goals.
At this time, the system used for establishing schools’ accountability rating involves putting each school in one of six different categories. A ranking of success is at the top of the scale, while a priority ranking means there are areas on which the school requires improvement and resources. However, next school year, the state will move to an A to F grading system, says The Herald-Dispatch.
“School designations allow communities to better understand how a school is doing and perhaps, more importantly, the areas where schools may be struggling and need some help,” said state schools Superintendent Michael Martirano. “We are dedicated to improving graduation rates, increasing school attendance rates and decreasing dropout rates as part of the One Voice, One Focus Vision Plan. I believe understanding and utilizing student assessment and school accountability data is part of the journey to improvement.”
Cabell County Superintendent Bill Smith agrees, but adds that performance goals should not be the only measure of a school because it can result in a distortion of the performance of a school.
“In these standards, the schools have to show growth,” Smith said. “In a high-flying school, it can be difficult to show growth when that school already has been performing well. I do like the growth model, but there is a better way of looking at the data in other ways. A school that has not performed well in the past has more room to show growth than a school that has performed well in the past.”
Many schools, according to the department, did not meet the established targets because the goals had increased from the last year. Naturally, this led to an increase of schools in the support category (schools that are not going in the right direction and need help in every area) and fewer in the success category.
West Virginia has named its Common Core standards Next Generation. Next Generation Learning focuses on accelerating educational innovation by way of applied technology to improve college readiness and completion in the US. West Virginia students currently take the Westest2 standardized tests, but will begin taking the Smarter Balanced tests in the 2015-2016 school year because the new standardized tests are more in line with the Next Generation standards. Each school is working at incorporating the Next Generation Learning Challenges into the curriculum.
The Westest scores, however, have nothing to do with students’ grades or graduation, but scores are used to measure which schools need help, and, as may be required by the federal government, could be part of teacher evaluations. The test change in 2015-2016 would base 15% of math and reading/language arts teacher evaluations on test scores, writes Ryan Quinn of The Charleston Gazette.
An editorial in the Charleston Daily Mail suggests that West Virginia legislators should take a look at the recommendations given by a consultant a few years ago, who studied the state’s public schools in depth. Many in the state are against the federal Common Core standards, but adds that Common Core is just one challenge.
West Virginians are ready to do what needs to be done to fund education, says the editorial. The state taxpayers, on a per capita basis, pay more to support schools than those in all but a few other states. Still, students are lagging behind. What will change this, according to the author, is comprehensive reform of West Virginia’s public schools.