State switches to new grading method

LISTEN TO REPORT — Dave Perry, left, president of the West Virginia Board of Education, and State Schools Superintendent Steve Paine listen as officials present the new Balanced Scorecard report. -- Steven Allen Adams

CHARLESTON — The West Virginia Board of Education Thursday got its first look at a new tool to evaluate the state’s 633 public schools.

Representatives of the state Department of Education briefed media about the new Balanced Scorecard that replaces the A Through F School Grading System used to evaluate how schools were performing across the state.

“We had a tall task in a short period of time,” said Steve Paine, state superintendent of schools.

The change came after Gov. Jim Justice campaigned on eliminating the A-F system, concerned about the negative perception the grades gave counties. The accountability requirements are dictated by the Every Student Succeeds Act passed by Congress in 2015.

Instead of giving a school one single letter grade to determine if it’s meeting educational goals, each school is evaluated using five categories: performance in English language arts and math, the state classroom benchmark assessment in grades 3-8, high school graduation rates, how well students learning English as a second language are progressing and student success.

Student success is determined by several issues. At the elementary and middle school level, the percentage of elementary and middle schools with attendance greater than 90 percent and no out-of-school suspensions. At the high school level, it considers attendance level, plus the number of credits earned by 10th graders; the completion of career and technical education programs, international baccalaureate credits and dual credit college courses among 12th graders.

The Balanced Scorecard uses those indicators to put schools into color-coded categories: green indicates a school has exceeded standards, blue indicates the school has met the standards, gold means the school has partially met standards and red means the school is not meeting standards.

Paine said the data presented in the Balanced Scorecard is consistent with what he’s seen, including a much-needed focus on math, which shows as red for West Virginia’s high schools. The state’s five-year graduation gets a blue rating for meeting standards. However, Paine said he was unpleasantly surprised that high school attendance was in the red.

“I was a little bit surprised that student attendance rates were lower than what I would have expected,” Paine said. “We anticipated low performance in mathematics. We’ve acknowledged that very very clearly for the last few months, especially evidenced by the fact that we have a comprehensive mathematics student achievement going forward. Other than that, I don’t think there were too many surprises.”

According to the Balanced Scorecard, West Virginia’s elementary and middle school students are partially meeting standards for English/language arts and math in the “academic performance” category, which is based on the percentage of points earned by students on a 125-point scale. But under the benchmark indicator category, based on periodic assessments, middle school students statewide are in the red.

The A-F system the Balanced Scorecard replaces used letter grades instead of colors. Senate Bill 359 empowered the state board of education to adopt a policy to hold schools accountable. Former Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin gave a mandate to the board in 2014 to create an accountability system. The A-F system was implemented under former state school Superintendent Michael Martirano in 2016.

In April 2017, the Department of Education got to work on what would become the Balanced Scorecard. Education officials held seven forums across the state to gather input for creating the Balanced Scorecard, including a public comment period to gather feedback. Paine met with teacher unions, plus consulted with his teachers’ advisory group.

“There were numerous concerns about that system from the field — from teachers, principals, superintendents, local board members — it seemed like everybody that I spoke with,” Paine said. “For parents, it’s pretty easy to understand. I’m a parent of four kids and when they were in school I didn’t want a letter grade necessarily for their overall performance on six to seven subject areas. I’d rather have a breakdown to know where they’re performing.”

Officials are quick to point out that the scores are not meant to be punitive but are meant to help educators and parents see which schools need the most help and resources. Educators hope to use the scores to team up schools that are doing poorly with schools with similar demographics that are meeting standards. Michele Blatt, state assistant superintendent, and head of the Division of Support and Accountability calls this effort “Statistical Neighbors.”

“What our intent is is to build and research where the good practices are occurring, and then connecting schools that have similar demographics to those sites that are performing well so that they can learn from each other,” Blatt said. “We know that the Department of Education is not the only place our schools can get help from.”

“This is not about a gotcha’ system, Paine added. “This is about establishing a benchmark from where we can work with all of our schools — principals, teachers, parents, students — to improve the performance of our schools.”

The public can view the Balanced Scorecard’s statewide data or look at how their individual schools are doing by going to

(Adams can be contacted at