W.Va. student performance low

CHARLESTON – Data released Wednesday under the state Department of Education’s new accountability system shows less than one-third of West Virginia public schools are meeting goals for both student learning and improvement, and fewer than half are meeting one of those goals.

State Schools Superintendent Jim Phares said the evaluation system gives parents a more accurate picture of how their children and schools are doing.

Schools were evaluated by grade-level and school-wide test scores, as well as factors such as attendance and graduation rates.

Using data based on a majority of students tested in grades 4 through 10, the state-developed system puts each school in one of five categories, with a success ranking at the top and a priority ranking indicating areas that require the most improvement and resources.

The accountability system replaces the federal yearly progress requirements under No Child Left Behind. In May, West Virginia won approval of its own method for identifying struggling schools and then devoting resources to improve them.

Phares said the catchphrase “all means all” was commonly used under No Child Left Behind, but under West Virginia’s new system, “student growth data gives us more accurate targeted information about every individual student.”

“Every student counts and every student must be growing and improving whether you’re a top-performing or a low-performing student.”

The success category means a school is on track to continue meeting learning and growth-performance goals for all students. The report said 184 schools, or 28 percent, were in that category, and schools must continue their progress and reach 2014 performance targets to maintain this status. In the transition category were 251 schools, or 38 percent, that have met one but not both goals.

There were 97 schools, or 15 percent, in the focus category, which designates significant achievement gaps and the need to concentrate on a single key issue.

The support category lists 89 schools, or 14 percent, that aren’t going in the right direction and need help in every area, and there were 31 historically low-performance schools, or about 5 percent, in the priority category.

“What it does tell us is that it’s neither extremely positive nor extremely negative. It is what it is,” Phares said.

According to data from the annual WESTEST 2 standardized test, 46 percent of state students were proficient in math, down slightly from last year; and 49 percent were proficient in reading, up slightly from 2012. The new accountability system shows that of those students meeting proficiency levels, 64 percent are keeping up or will exceed growth expectations in math, and 70 percent will do so in reading.

And 73 percent of the students who didn’t meet proficiency marks in math and 68 percent of those in reading showed no academic improvement. Parents and schools will use the data to develop targeted improvements for that group of students, Phares said.

“The new accountability system is not about comparing one school to another. It’s a focus just on that school,” Phares said. “The system is about keeping your eye on the finishing line, not looking to the lane to the left of you, the lane to the right of you. There are various starting points for our students in schools and the finish line is the same. We want all of our schools at some point in time to become a success school and we want them to continue to focus on proficiency as well as improvement of the students.

“Once you get there, it means that you’ve got to continue to improve.”