The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

May 16, 2014

New policy rates state schools with A-F grade

West Virginia Board of Education

By Jessica Farrish
Register-Herald Reporter

BECKLEY — Schools in West Virginia are now held accountable to the same grading system students face, following a Wednesday meeting of the West Virginia Board of Education.

In his State of the State Address in January, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin had charged the board with adopting a policy that would assign a grade of A through F to public schools.

On Wednesday, state board members approved the new accountability scale.

“All students have the ability to learn and grow, and a strong accountability system must capture measures of that growth,” said WVBOE President Gayle Manchin. “By focusing on both mastery of content and growth, a true picture of how a student and school are doing is apparent.”

Schools will receive their first “grades” when school starts in the fall and will receive one every year in the future, according to state Department of Education spokeswoman Christine Galusha.

Following the accountability system WVDE enacted last year — which graded schools as success (highest ranking), transition, focus, support or priority (lowest) — the “grade” will be based on WESTEST proficiency scores, student academic growth, attendance rates, graduation rates for high schools and achievement gaps between groups of students.

The new system, however, places a higher weight on student focus and school performance and changes the student “subgroups.”

Raleigh County Schools Superintendent Jim Brown said the new accountability system offers a familiar scale that all parents can understand and that will motivate communities to become more involved when a school is in trouble.

“With one of the highest numbers of success schools, our system is aligned for high expectations,” he said. “They’ve performed very well.

“We do know there are schools that are going to be below that mark,” he added. “I don’t think anyone is going to be satisfied with a ‘C.’

“It’s going to ask us to look at our data and raise the bar.”

State board member Dr. William White had opposed the new grading system after expressing concern that a low rating could impact property values in the district as well as teacher recruitment.

Brown said the concerns are “valid” but added a low rating could motivate communities to help C, D and F schools.

“What I hope would occur in Raleigh County is that folks in the community would rally around that school,” he said. “Educating children can’t be the sole responsibility of the school system.

“It’s a joint responsibility,” he said. “There’s a lot of factors that contribute to student achievement ... supports beyond the school day, as well as having highly effective teachers in the classroom and well-run schools.”

West Virginia Education Association-Raleigh County Co-President Marie Hamrick agreed with Brown’s assessment that factors beyond the classroom impact student achievement but said she’s concerned that labeling a school with an “F” could actually decrease support.

“With the A to F grading would be the stigma that comes with an F school,” she said. “It would probably be more dramatic than as we rate them now, a priority school.

“For those priority, or if you wanted to say the F school, to improve, you really have to have buy-in from everybody — the community, parents, the students.

“I’m not sure, if it were tagged or labeled as an ‘F’ school, that you would have that buy-in and support that you need to improve those schools,” she said. “The label now is a priority school, which means that that’s where your priorities are going to be with programs and funding.”

Hamrick added that she’s concerned additional support and funding for ‘F’ schools isn’t identified under the new guidelines.

Florida education officials enacted a similar accountability system in 2013, but Hamrick said the Florida model has shown no significant increase in student achievement since it was enacted.

“Why would West Virginia want to model something over a program that really wasn’t successful?” she said. “If we’re going to model after somebody, we should probably model after Massachusetts or Connecticut, who are showing some real increases in student achievement.”

Hamrick said lawmakers in both states had increased funding for schools, which had raised student achievement.

Tomblin approved the new school rating system on Wednesday.

“This is a transparent education accountability system that rates student progress and performance in every West Virginia school using language that parents and the community can understand,” he said.

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