Rating Schools In W.Va. Fairly

Public schools should not be judged on the basis of how well one or two of their students perform on standardized tests. Yet something like that may have happened in West Virginia.

Under a new evaluation system being used by the state Department of Education, each school is assigned one of five possible ratings. One hundred eighty-four schools are rated “success,” the top ranking in the system. The next level, “transition,” has 251 schools. The middle ranking, “focus,” includes 97 schools. Just 89 schools were placed in the “support” category, while the bottom rating, “priority,” has 31 schools.

None of the six Northern Panhandle counties includes any “priority” schools – but there are 12 in the “support” category. Brooke County has three schools with that rating, Hancock has two, Marshall has three and Wetzel has four.

According to the state, “support” schools have not reached attendance or graduation rate goals and have other shortcomings including relatively poor student performance on the WESTEST 2.

But earlier this year, administrators and teachers at George Washington High School in Charleston were shocked to hear their facility had received a “support” rating. GWHS had been considered to be a good school. What went wrong?

Very little, according to GWHS Principal George Aulenbacher.

School officials appealed the ratings decision and found it was based on poor standardized test participation rates among students from low socio-economic backgrounds. In a published comment, Aulenbacher said the entire problem came down to a discrepancy that involved only one or two students.

Now, GWHS has a “success” rating, having been moved from the second-worst category used by the state to the best.

Again, the dramatic change came down to just one or two students, according to the school’s principal.

We don’t know precisely what statistical grounds state officials used to rate the 12 Northern Panhandle schools as “support” cases. Clearly, officials in the four counties involved should be looking into the situation.

It is a mistake to assume a school is doing good work simply because education officials say so. Ratings systems using data such as standardized test results, etc., are important. Where they show shortcomings, corrective action should be taken.

But the ratings need to be accurate and fair – based on more than a handful of students. State education department officials should take a look at the new rating system to ensure it is not skewed unfairly.