State schools see modest improvement

School attendance a growing problem

ASKING QUESTIONS — Scott Rotruck, a member of the West Virginia Board of Education, asks questions about the 2018-2019 Balanced Scorecard report released Thursday by the state Department of Education. -- Steven Allen Adams

CHARLESTON — Despite seeing slight improvements in English/Language Arts and Math performance, school attendance continues to be a growing problem in West Virginia, according to the second year of the Balanced Scorecard.

The state Department of Education released the Balanced Scorecard report for the 2018-2019 school year Thursday during the regular meeting of the West Virginia Board of Education. Debuting Sept. 13, 2018, the Balanced Scorecard replaced the “A Through F School Grading System.”

The Balanced Scorecard is used to evaluate how schools are performing across the state. The color-coded report gives teachers, school administrators and parents a quick way to determine how their local schools are doing.

Green means the school exceeds standards, blue means the school meets standards, yellow means the school partially meets standards, and red means the school does not meet standards. This year, instead of solid colors, the department chose gradients that can show how close schools are to moving to the next color.

Elementary and middle schools are graded by their academic performance and progress for Math and English/Language Arts as well as for attendance and student behavior. High schools are assessed by academic performance for Math and ELA, four-year and five-year graduation rates, attendance, if juniors are on-track to graduation, and if seniors are prepared for college.

“It’s important because of the fact that a Balanced Scorecard means we’re looking at multiple measures that we know will make our students successful and we’re not basing our accountability system on one single test score,” said Michele Blatt, assistant superintendent for certification and professional preparation, who presented the updated Balanced Scorecard to the state board.

According to Blatt, 32 districts improved their scorecard points from last year for ELA performance, while 34 districts improved their scorecard points on Math performance. Blatt said 22 districts improved on five or more indicators over last year’s Balanced Scorecard.

“Sometimes we’ll see if we focus on English/Language Arts in a school, their math will go down or if they focus on attendance, something else goes down,” Blatt said. “I thought that was good to see that we’re focusing on all these different indicators that make for an effective school and that our students need to be successful to meet our purpose.”

Blatt said there was a decrease in the percentage of schools that did not meet ELA or Math standards. For ELA that decrease was 1.2 percent, while the decrease for Math was 6 percent. For college preparation for high schools, the percentage of schools exceeding the standards increased by 4 percent and the percentage of schools not meeting standards decreased 4.2 percent.

“One thing to focus on is we have one year of data, so I think seeing that our schools and districts are already focusing on all levels of students and trying to make those gains after so many years of just worrying about proficiency I think says a lot for our schools and districts as they’re digging in to their data better,” Blatt said.

When looking at school designated Comprehensive Support and Improvement schools — schools that have issues with academic achievement — 46 percent moved up to the next level in ELA and 20 percent in Math. In ELA, 77 percent increased their overall points, while 83 percent increased their overall points in Math. In the highest poverty schools, 14 met or exceeded standards in Math, while 15 met or exceeded ELA standards.

An indicator that saw no improvement was attendance. For the 2017-2018 school year, 30.5 percent of schools did not meet standards for attendance (students who have missed more than 10 percent of school in a year). For the 2018-2019 school year that number jumped to 38.6 percent.

“That’s startling,” said state board member Scott Rotruck. “Are there any major catalyzing events that could explain that kind of incredible increase in such a short period of time?”

“We expected to see a decrease in that percentage because we had done a lot of work with our districts and our schools in how they code attendance and what it needs to look like and cleaning up their data collection,” Blatt said. “We’re still digging into that.”

“I’m appalled at the attendance rates. I’m absolutely appalled,” said State Schools Superintendent Steve Paine. “Just think if we could get more kids to school, what would happen to those achievement rates and graduation rates.”

Paine said the state board needs to set a policy structure for counties and schools to follow when it comes to attendance and hold them accountable. Paine said he would be speaking to the West Virginia School Board Association meeting today about the attendance numbers.

“We have not held local boards accountable for results and I’m not going to be that easy,” Paine said. “If they want more flexibility, they need to step up and assume more accountability.”

“We need school boards to step up and hold their superintendents and their principals and their teachers accountable for results,” Paine said. “They need to figure out the attendance problem and so forth, and we need to provide any expertise and resources possible to help them get that job done.”

(Adams can be contacted at sadams@newsandsentinel.com)


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