More Changes Coming To Education in West Virginia

Board of education abandons letter grades for schools

Photo Provided Wheeling Park High School teacher Kevin Orth works with a student in the school’s aviation club.

WHEELING — West Virginia Board of Education President Tom Campbell acknowleges the Mountain State is a state of education flux.

This week, board of education members voted to abandon the “A-F” grading system of measuring school accountability in its first year of use. The move came just as West Virginia legislators also are considering bills to eliminate the General Summative Assessment method of standardized testing across the state in its second year.

Now, the state board of education is awaiting guidance from state lawmakers as it seeks to implement more “reasonable” and “meaningful” methods for measuring school accountability and student assessment, according to Campbell.

The board is set to meet next on April 12 — four days after the end of the regular session of the Legislature. Members will have to take action at that time to institute new measures for accountability and assessment prior to the start of the 2017-18 school year and meet federal requirements.

Campbell said the board is “poised to go in more than one direction” based upon any mandates from the Legislature.

“In the beginning, I had supported the A-F system,” he said. “However, the implementation led to unanticipated consequences. Sometimes you try things, and they don’t work.”

A major problem with the A-F system resulted as educators realized there were actually only subtle distinctions between schools receiving an “A” grade and those getting a “C,” according to Campbell.

“Grades were assigned on the basis of a bell curve, and it was hard to see where there were any differences,” he said. “The labels were causing consternation.”

A major component used to determine the A-F grade was the General Summative Assessment standardized testing system.

Bills presently before the Legislature would replace the assessment with another product produced by the ACT company.

The board would likely seek to make the statewide testing process more “reasonable,” according to Campbell. Students at grade levels are tested on a yearly basis under the current system, and it’s likely the number of grade levels tested would be reduced under a new system.

“We would also want to make the testing more meaningful,” he said. “We want results specific to individual students that can be used by educators to plan their teaching with each individual student. If there’s too much testing, there’s too much data and no time to react to what you get.”

He also expects a return to pencil-based standardized testing across the state. Students now take the tests on computers, which adds to the overall time devoted to testing by schools, as there are not enough computers in the schools for all students to be tested at the same time. Testing time is limited to computer lab time.

Campbell said the board would be working with legislators, educators and other stakeholders to develop plans for education testing and accountability across the state that will work for five years.

“The worst thing we can do is to keep changing each year,” he said. “We will wait to see what the Legislature does, and we will respect the guidance they give us. And we should be ready to move once we get it.”

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