Placing the dunce cap on our schools
I’ve spent the last few days pouring over the data from the second annual Balanced Scorecard report on the performance of West Virginia’s schools, and I’m really kind of appalled at the results for the students we’re pushing into college or the workforce.
This weekend I focused on the high school performance numbers for the 2018-1019 school year, which — statistically-speaking — saw next to no improvement. English/Language Art performance remained unchanged, with 57.24 percent of schools categorized as yellow for partially meeting standards. The percentage of schools not meeting Math standards went from 44.14 percent to 44.17 percent, earning them red status.
Now, our state school officials and union leaders (by that I mean the presidents of the two school teacher unions) like to brag about the state’s graduation rates. West Virginia improved on its four-year graduation rate with 90.16 percent of high schools meeting four-year graduation rate standards. The percentage of high schools meeting state five-year graduation rate standards only dropped slightly from 90.37 percent to 90 percent. According to the Balanced Scorecard, these 2018-2019 ratings earn the state blue, meaning we’re meeting standards.
I have always been troubled by the constant bragging about the number of students we graduate from our schools, because if we’re pushing kids out of our schools unprepared for college coursework, then what is the point?
For example, according to the 2019 Academic Readiness Report released by the state Higher Education Policy Commission, 25.3 percent of 2017 high school graduates in West Virginia had to enroll in some form of remedial Math, English, or Reading. These numbers are slightly down from 2016, but they still represent nearly a quarter of high school graduates showing up at the state two-year and four-year colleges and universities without the Math and English/Language Arts skills needed to make it through college.
Now, compare that to the latest Balanced Scorecard results. For the 2018-2019 school year (last year), we had 90.16 percent of high schools meeting standards for four-year graduation rates. Yet, we have 63.65 percent of high schools partially meeting standards for post-secondary achievement, defined as the “percent of 12th grade students meeting selected post-high school achievement criteria.”
Again, why do we keep bragging about the graduation rate?
Which brings me to the MetroNews West Virginia Poll. According to the poll, 50 percent of West Virginians are satisfied with the quality of K-12 education in the state.
Are you kidding?
It’s one thing to look at the statewide data in the Balanced Scorecard. It’s an entirely other thing to pull up the data on individual schools. Take my native Pleasants County, for example.
At St. Marys High School, its students receive a 52.7 percent (yellow) for partially meeting English/Language Arts standards, 39.8 percent (red) for not meeting Math standards, and 72.3 percent (red) for not meeting attendance standards. Yet it meets standards (blue) for its four-year and five-year graduation rates, as well as for post-secondary achievement.
It doesn’t mean there are not success stories. Out of seven categories, George Washington High School in Kanawha County met standards (blue) and exceeded standards (green) for post-secondary achievement. Hurricane High School in Putnam County exceeded standards for its four-year grad rate and the number of students on track to graduate. At Morgantown High School in Monongalia County, they met standards in ELA, attendance, and their four-year and five-year grad rates.
Unfortunately, the story for most high schools in the state is not that rosy, especially Southern West Virginia schools (which ironically are the counties that take credit for starting the ball rolling on the 2018 and 2019 strikes). The top 15 counties with the worst numbers for attendance were in Logan, McDowell, Wayne, Boone, Mingo, Lincoln and Wyoming counties.
Let’s single out Wyoming County for a moment, which has two high schools. Westside High School was in the red for not meeting standards in three categories: The schools received a 48.3 percent for not meeting English/Language Arts standards, 36.5 percent for not meeting Math standards, and 48.4 percent not meeting attendance standards. Yet, it’s in the blue for meeting four-year graduation rate standards. Wyoming East High School was only better than Westside in ELA standards, which it partially met at 51.6 percent.
I’ve already heard it said that the real problem is the standards are too tough and impossible to meet. I’d remind everyone that the current set of academic standards in place in West Virginia was developed by our very own teachers in 2016 with community involvement. These are the standards we created and felt our high school students needed to learn before leaving the nest.
This is something we all have to get mad about. Parents need to get together with our teachers, school administrators, and school board members and figure out what needs to be done. Blame whomever you want, but if the parents (or in many cases grandparents, foster parents, guardians, etc.) don’t start caring, then this isn’t going to get turned around.
It’s a shame that some of the parents who do care and want to attempt to start a charter school are going to be blocked at every turn by the teacher unions, who have said as much. Some schools will start improving as we, the press, bring more attention to the Balanced Scorecard, but for parents stuck in a school that refuses to improve, a charter might be their only hope.
(Adams is the state government reporter for Ogden Newspapers. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)