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Officials Weigh In on School Grade Process

By Staff | Nov 23, 2016

Photo by Chad Turner Tyler Consolidated students weren’t the only ones who received their report cards recently. The state Department of Education issued a report to public schools across the state. Though Tyler’s marks were not outstanding, the administration is taking steps to improve the quality of education.

MIDDLEBOURNE – It’s report card time for the public school systems across the state.

Tyler County’s schools need some work based on the new West Virginia Report Card grading system that awarded A’s, B’s or C’s to schools near and far.

Tyler County Schools Superintendent Robin Daquilante said while she is proud of her teachers and students and her schools are working with the state to improve math scores, the grades themselves do not represent “a true picture” of what is going on in the schools.

“We know that there are good schools that do things poorly and there are bad schools that do some things well,” she said.

The West Virginia Department of Education made the new letter grades for schools public Wednesday. Those grades are based on each school’s data from 2015, and indicate the school’s level of success in ultimately getting students career- or college-ready, department officials said Tuesday.

Data used is 83 percent student performance, including scores from the West Virginia General Summative Assessment, the periodic test that replaced the old Westest. The remaining 17 percent of the score is based on non-performance metrics, including attendance at all school levels and graduation rates at the high-school level.

Michele Blatt, chief accountability officer for the West Virginia Department of Education, said grades of A, B and C are within the “acceptable range” of grades, while D’s and F’s are “unacceptable.”

Schools receiving unacceptable grades must create a plan to improve by next year, and if there’s no improvement, then the state can help with resources through the Regional Educational Service Areas.

Known as the West Virginia School Accountability System, specific A-F grades represent students’ performance as follows: A – distinctive; B – commendable; C – acceptable; D – unacceptable, and F – lowest, according to documents showing how to interpret the report card.

The state Department of Education designed the accountability system to meet a requirement of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act that was signed into law by President Barack Obama on Dec. 15.

It mandates every state to create such a system, yet it gives states some control over how to assess its own schools’ success in getting students career- and college-ready. The act replaces the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act, according to the U.S. Department of Education website.

According to grades released Wednesday, among Brooke County’s 10 schools, Hancock County’s seven schools, Tyler County’s four schools and Wetzel County’s eight schools, each school system had one school earn a D grade. Marshall County’s 12 schools brought in two D grades.

No schools within the local counties earned an F grade. Some schools throughout the state that did receive F’s did so because they didn’t have the required 95 percent of students perform the actual test portion, said Michele Blatt, chief accountability officer for the West Virginia Department of Education, who spoke with media during a conference call last week.

Grading the Grading Process

Daquilante said the report card doesn’t show any of the progress made by the schools toward achieving success. Remember, U.S. News and World Report ranks Tyler Consolidated High School as among the best in the state and nation last year. The school was given a coveted “bronze” ranking. Students earned more than $2,368,495 in merit based scholarships meaning they have earned it through academic excellence, athletic ability, or leadership experience.

The state’s new grading standard gets the majority of its information relies from a single test: the West Virginia General Summative Assessment, that assesses only a few subjects in different grades by assigning a proficiency score of 1-4 for students.

For example, the assessment scores only on language arts and math for grades 6 and 7, but those subjects account for only two periods of an eight-period day, Daquilante said.

“So, (with the state report card) we’re saying how a school is performing based on only 25 percent of the school day,” Daquilante said.

Daquilante said she and other superintendents are calling for additional assessments to be added to the process.

“I don’t think the scores are a true picture of the success of our school system and our students,” she said.

An additional problem with the test is that students have no accountability for the results of it, Daquilante said. For example, when taking the ACT test, students know a high score can help them get into college, but when it comes to the West Virginia General Summative Assessment, “this score means nothing to them.”

She said she’s seen some students do very well on the ACT, but perform poorly on the state testing.

Tyler Consolidated Middle School earned a D rating, missing the “acceptable” C rating by only three points out of the 1,200 points possible for middle and elementary schools, she said. The other three schools earned C and B ratings. Its high school, Tyler Consolidated, earned a C with a total of 658.38 points out of a possible 1,500.

“The main message is, we think the state board believes we don’t want to be accountable for anything, and that’s not our objection at all,” she said. “We just want it to be fair.”

Improvement Areas Revealed

Although the state board of education was set to approve schools’ grades during its meeting Wednesday, schools already knew their grades. For example, Daquilante said she received grades in July.

The state Department of Education withheld releasing them to the public until schools had a chance to verify the data used and appeal their grades.

Shute said her school system worked hard to put in a number of appeals to the data, but none changed schools’ ultimate grades.

Finding Meaning in Goals

Walt Saunders, assessment and federal programs director for Ohio County Schools, explained the state report card grades also reflect students’ increases or decreases in proficiency, as well as college- and career-readiness for high schoolers.

But, he believes, those glimpses into success have a subjective bent.

“When you look at this, you see how they are determining if you are college ready,” he said.

Saunders said on the state report card, a student who takes all advanced placement courses, and gets a perfect score on the ACT, is not deemed college-ready if she doesn’t take the AP exams. And, if she does take the exams, she must earn a 3, 4 or 5 on the exams to be considered college-ready.

However, her grades and ACT scores will be what actually counts for getting into college, Saunders said. And, to be considered career-ready in the state report card data, a student in career technical education would have to complete the entire sequence of courses.

School systems in the Northern Panhandle are succeeding in many ways, Shute said, noting that their graduation rates each exceed 90 percent – higher than the state’s 89.81 percent, which is second-highest in the nation.

Brooke County maintains a 93.5 percent graduation rate, she added.

Ohio County’s is the highest rate in the state, at 98.5 percent, Miller said.

Schools receiving unacceptable grades must create a plan to improve by next year, and if there’s no improvement, then the state can help with resources through the Regional Educational Service Areas.

Known as the West Virginia School Accountability System, specific A-F grades represent students’ performance as follows: A – distinctive; B – commendable; C – acceptable; D – unacceptable, and F – lowest, according to documents showing how to interpret the report card.

The state Department of Education designed the accountability system to meet a requirement of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act that was signed into law by President Barack Obama on Dec. 15.

It mandates every state to create such a system, yet it gives states some control over how to assess its own schools’ success in getting students career- and college-ready. The act replaces the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act, according to the U.S. Department of Education website.

According to grades released Wednesday, among Brooke County’s 10 schools, Hancock County’s seven schools, Tyler County’s four schools and Wetzel County’s eight schools, each school system had one school earn a D grade. Marshall County’s 12 schools brought in two D grades.

No schools within the local counties earned an F grade. Some schools throughout the state that did receive F’s did so because they didn’t have the required 95 percent of students perform the actual test portion, said Michele Blatt, chief accountability officer for the West Virginia Department of Education, who spoke with media Tuesday during a conference call.

Grading the Grading Process

Daquilante said the report card doesn’t show any of the progress made by the schools toward achieving success. Remember, U.S. News and World Report ranks Tyler Consolidated High School as among the best in the state and nation last year. The school was given a coveted “bronze” ranking. Students earned more than $2,368,495 in merit based scholarships meaning they have earned it through academic excellence, athletic ability, or leadership experience.

The state’s new grading standard gets the majority of its information relies from a single test: the West Virginia General Summative Assessment, that assesses only a few subjects in different grades by assigning a proficiency score of 1-4 for students.

For example, the assessment scores only on language arts and math for grades 6 and 7, but those subjects account for only two periods of an eight-period day, Daquilante said.

“So, (with the state report card) we’re saying how a school is performing based on only 25 percent of the school day,” Daquilante said.

Daquilante said she and other superintendents are calling for additional assessments to be added to the process.

“I don’t think the scores are a true picture of the success of our school system and our students,” she said.

An additional problem with the test is that students have no accountability for the results of it, Daquilante said. For example, when taking the ACT test, students know a high score can help them get into college, but when it comes to the West Virginia General Summative Assessment, “this score means nothing to them.”

She said she’s seen some students do very well on the ACT, but perform poorly on the state testing.

Tyler Consolidated Middle School earned a D rating, missing the “acceptable” C rating by only three points out of the 1,200 points possible for middle and elementary schools, she said. The other three schools earned C and B ratings. Its high school, Tyler Consolidated, earned a C with a total of 658.38 points out of a possible 1,500.

“The main message is, we think the state board believes we don’t want to be accountable for anything, and that’s not our objection at all,” she said. “We just want it to be fair.”

Improvement Areas Revealed

Although the state board of education was set to approve schools’ grades during its meeting Wednesday, schools already knew their grades. For example, Daquilante said she received grades in July.

The state Department of Education withheld releasing them to the public until schools had a chance to verify the data used and appeal their grades.

Shute said her school system worked hard to put in a number of appeals to the data, but none changed schools’ ultimate grades.

Finding Meaning in Goals

Walt Saunders, assessment and federal programs director for Ohio County Schools, explained the state report card grades also reflect students’ increases or decreases in proficiency, as well as college- and career-readiness for high schoolers.

But, he believes, those glimpses into success have a subjective bent.

“When you look at this, you see how they are determining if you are college ready,” he said.

Saunders said on the state report card, a student who takes all advanced placement courses, and gets a perfect score on the ACT, is not deemed college-ready if she doesn’t take the AP exams. And, if she does take the exams, she must earn a 3, 4 or 5 on the exams to be considered college-ready.

However, her grades and ACT scores will be what actually counts for getting into college, Saunders said. And, to be considered career-ready in the state report card data, a student in career technical education would have to complete the entire sequence of courses.

School systems in the Northern Panhandle are succeeding in many ways, Shute said, noting that their graduation rates each exceed 90 percent – higher than the state’s 89.81 percent, which is second-highest in the nation. Brooke County maintains a 93.5 percent graduation rate, she added.

Ohio County’s is the highest rate in the state, at 98.5 percent, Miller said.

The process for the state report card is quite complicated, and difficult to comprehend with only a brief review, Daquilante said. She noted determining which students belong in various categories of proficiency: “growing, keeping up or not adequate growth,” as well as those considered “at risk” of not graduating, is complex.

This is the first year for the report cards, although the state Department of Education has been working with schools for about a year. From now on, scoring will be released each fall during the school year.