By J.W. JOHNSON JR
As students and teachers in Tyler County get settled in for a new school year, they are also taking a moment this week to celebrate, as it was learned last week the district was the only county in West Virginia to achieve Adequate Yearly Progress for the 2011-12 school year.
A district's performance - and the performance and knowledge of students in a district - is measured in West Virginia using the West Virginia Educational Standards Test, or WESTEST 2. Administered each spring, the test all students in grades 3-11 take the assessment, which aims to gauge the types of skills and knowledge they possess.
According to the most recent WESTEST2 data, the number of Tyler County students reaching the "at or above" proficiency level has increased in both math and reading across most grade levels. Proficiency is defined as the number of students meeting or exceeding grade level expectations in each subject, as well as student's attendance and graduation rate.
Additionally, as part of the No Child Left Behind law, schools also must meet adequate yearly progress. All schools in Tyler County met AYP this past school year, and Tyler County is the only county in the state who achieved County AYP status.
"What we value in West Virginia is constant improvement and student academic growth," said State Superintendent Jorea Marple. "Meeting AYP under No Child Left Behind is a tough task for schools across the nation."
Tyler County Schools Superintendent Robin Daquilante said a lot of hard work and time is put into preparing for the WESTEST, with teachers meeting for two days each summer to review scores for both full classes and individuals. From those scores, teachers develop a plan for the coming year targeted at improving areas of subjects where students did not perform at a high level. She said this goes along with the idea that a teacher must teach each student individually.
"The teachers are looking at those scores and asking what they can do to help a student and address a potential weakness," Daquilante said. "They are able to see if a student was only one question away from mastery or if they did poorly on a particular topic and more attention needs to be paid, and it allows them to determine if they need to speed up or slow down particular lessons."
Daquilante said getting the students involved with WESTEST preparation early has also been a major part of the county's success. She said at schools such as Sistersville Elementary, test scores are given to parents at the beginning of the year, and a presentation is held to explain what the numbers and scores mean. Additionally, three benchmark tests are administered throughout the year that gauge whether a student or class would be ready for the test if it were to be administered that day.
"The students know what it is and are prepped all year long, they don't just hear about it a month before the test," she said. "If we look at the benchmark and see an area of concern, we then need to find out what we can do for the students that we aren't doing to get to where we need to be by the time WESTEST comes around."
Daquilante said much has changed since the WESTEST was changed to its new format, including how the information is presented and taught to students in the classroom. She said the common misconception is that teachers spend more time teaching to the test and not focusing on other important lessons students need to learn.
"I don't think that argument holds water," she said. "The standards the teachers are held accountable to teach are directly those standards that are tested. The questions change every year, so it would be hard to teach to the test because we don't really know specifics of what will be on there."
Daquilante said teachers are already focused and prepared for the current school year and the 2013 WESTEST, with the goal being to continue the high level of achievement earned last year.