West Virginia Scraps A-F Grading System for Schools

WHEELING — Hancock County Schools Superintendent Kathy Kidder-Wilkerson breathed a sigh of relief, then exclaimed, “Yeah!” after being told West Virginia’s public schools will no longer will receive “A-F” letter grades as a measure of their effectiveness.

The schools received their first “A-F” grades just four months ago, as West Virginia sought to comply with federal guidelines mandating education accountability at the state level.

The measurements were based on a bell curve, meaning half of the state’s schools received a “C” or middle of the road rating.

Gov. Jim Justice took office in January, and soon after told West Virginia Association of School Administrators he wanted the “A-F” West Virginia School Accountability System abolished. He believed the grades create an unfair negative perception of the state’s schools.

This week, the West Virginia Board of Education acted on a recommendation of the State Department of Education to eliminate the grading system.

“Thank heaven for Gov. Justice,” Wilkerson said.

Wilkerson serves on the WVASA executive committee, which urged against implementation of the A-F system. Members sent the state Department of Education and Board of Education members letters and emails, and provided additional discussion urging that the system not be instituted.

“But they went ahead and did it, and that was their option,” she said.

The administrators also believed the bell curve measurements created an unfair measurement — one that was highly weighted on a school’s standardized test results.

“There were just not enough criteria measures,” Wilkerson said. “The weight was on the Summative Assessment, and I believe most of the superintendents in the association were against it. We wanted to change the measures.”

While accountability grades will not be determined for the 2016-17 school year in West Virginia, the federal Every Student Succeeds Act requires full implementation of an accountability system by the start of 2017-18 school year.

Wilkerson said administrators would like to see the new system take into account such factors as student growth, and the progress each makes from year to year.

They would also like to see schools receive more points for pushing literacy and parent participation, and for attendance and graduation rates to be considered more in accountability ratings., according to Wilkerson.

The state also plans to jettison the Summative Assessment standardized testing format after only two years. Wilkerson said West Virginia appears to be traveling a meandering path when it comes to education.

“It just makes it look like we’re confused,” she said.

Wilkerson said much of the frustration emanates from the Legislature, in which she contends lawmakers aren’t familiar with the best practices for education. She said it is up to school administrators to provide “political allies” with the correct information.

“I have faith in our delegates, and in Sen. (Ryan) Weld, (R-Brooke),” she said. “We may disagree, but I don’t care if it’s after we have given them all the information they need.”

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