Ohio County Schools Calendar Process Questioned

On the evening of Feb. 24 Ohio County Schools held their second of two public forums on the school calendar for the 2014-15 academic year. A group of about 15 Wheeling Park High School students dominated the first part of the comment period and advocated for an early start date to the school year.

These students looked great, and were obviously bright and very articulate, but their opinions were not supported by facts, data or history. Just like the Wheeling Park High School principal advocated at a Feb. 12 event for prospective freshmen, the students urged parents to support a school calendar which begins in early August. The students pushed one main reason for this early start, additional instruction time for Advanced Placement (“AP”) exams and promoted a more secondary reason of the need to have an earlier end to the first semester grading period in order to have these grades included with college applications.

None of these arguments for an early August start to the school calendar holds any water when the school calendars of high achieving states actually are examined.

Education Week in January ranked Massachusetts as No. 1 in the nation in the category of K-12 achievement. West Virginia was ranked No. 47. School districts in Massachusetts start their academic year between the last Monday in August and the first Monday in September. The first semester grading period ends in mid-January, and school year ends in mid-June. Massachusetts schools take the normal Christmas break and then also take a week-long winter break in February and a week long Spring break in April. In the entire state 69.6 percent of students scored between 3-5 on their AP exams with this “limited” instruction time.

Ohio County students in 2013 scored between 3-5 at a rate of 68 percent while the state of West Virginia’s rate was 41.7 percent. A score between 3 and 5 is generally what colleges deem acceptable to receive college credit for an AP exam.

Ranked No. 2 by Education Week in K-12 achievement was Maryland. Maryland school districts generally start the last week of August with some starting after Aug. 20. The first semester grading period ends mid- January, and the school year ends generally mid-June. In the entire state 61.3 percent of students scored between a 3-5 on their AP exams with this “limited” instruction time.

Ranked No. 3 by Education Week in 2014 for K-12 achievement was New Jersey. School districts in New Jersey generally start after Labor Day. The first semester grading period ends late January in some districts with most districts having an early February end to the first semester. The school year ends generally in late June. In the entire state 73.2 percent of students score 3-5 on their AP exams with this “limited” instruction time.

Ranked No. 4 by Education Week was New Hampshire. The school year generally starts in New Hampshire after Labor Day. The first semester grading period ends in late January, and the school year generally ends in mid-June. In the entire state 73.5 percent of students score a 3 or higher on their AP exams with this “limited” instruction time.

Ranked No. 5 by Education Week was Vermont. Vermont school districts generally start their school year on Aug. 28. The first semester grading period ends late January, and school ends generally in mid-June. In the entire state 66.8 percent of students score a 3 or higher on their AP exams with this “limited” instruction time.

Ranked No. 6 by Education Week for K-12 achievement was Minnesota. Minnesota schools started in 2013 on Aug. 26. The first semester grading period ended Jan. 16, and the school year is over on June 9. In the entire state 64.7 percent of students score a 3 or higher on their AP exams with this “limited” instruction time.

Ranked No. 7 by Education Week for K-12 achievement in 2014 was Florida. The school starts dates in Florida are many and varied. Forty-eight of the 67 school districts started the 2013-14 school year on Aug. 19. Twelve districts started between Aug. 6 and 15, and the remaining seven started Aug.t 20-22. The first semester generally ended mid-January, and the 2013-14 academic year ended in Florida generally in early June. In the entire state 44.5 percent of students score a 3 or higher on their AP exams.

Florida, of the top 10 states in K-12 achievement, comes closest to what Ohio County Schools seems to want as a school calendar and has the worst AP test scores for any of the top 10 states.

Ranked No. 8 by Education Week was Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania is all over the place with school start dates with most being between the last week of August and right after Labor Day. The first semester grading period ends early to mid-January, and school ends generally mid-June. In the entire state 67.8 percent of students score a 3 or higher on their AP exams with this “limited” instruction time.

Ranked No. 9 by Education Week for K-12 achievement was the State of Washington. The Washington academic calendar generally starts after Labor Day, with some districts starting in very late August. The first semester ends mid to late January, and the school year ends generally in mid-June. In the entire state 60.5 percent of students score a 3 or higher on their AP exams with this “limited” instruction time.

Ranked No. 10 by Education Week for K-12 achievement in 2014 was Virginia. School districts in Virginia start the school year after Labor Day. The first semester ends in late January, and the school year ends generally in mid-June. In the entire state 60.5 percent of students score a 3 or higher on their AP exams with this “limited” instruction time.

All school systems in all the top 10 states and in West Virginia take the same AP tests on the same dates in May. With the exception of Florida, the students in these top 10 states perform comparably to or better than Ohio County students on the AP exams. With the exception of Florida, all these top 10 states currently start their academic year after Ohio County Schools.

Why is it, suddenly after years and years of Ohio County Schools calendars, which started the last week of August, that the high school having a perceived problem with providing adequate instruction time for these AP classes? Ohio County Schools always have had the ability to start their school year earlier in August but did not until the last several years of creeping toward earlier and earlier start dates. Where were the students for the past 20 years when the calendar started in late August; why the outcry now? I will suggest it was because Ohio County Schools heard something they did not expect at the first public hearing, an overwhelming support for a school calendar which begins in late August or early September.

The less pressing reason for the early start time was the need to get first semester grades completed in time for college applications. Again, all these other school systems in these top 10 achieving states have first semester grading periods which end in the middle of January or even February. I know for a fact that students from all these other states attend college. Many attend what are considered elite colleges and universities. These states prove that when the first semester grading period ends is irrelevant to the college application process.

Why is Ohio County Schools advocating at all this reason for the need for an early August start date to the school year?

Ohio County Schools has attempted to direct public opinion on the issue of the school start date from the very beginning of this process. It provided a survey to the public with only calendar start date options of July 1, Aug. 4, Aug. 11 and Aug. 18. The only thing we lemmings had to do for them is conveniently check one of these earlier start options on the survey.

Why did Ohio County Schools not also provide start options on the survey for Aug. 25 or Sept. 2, start dates which the overwhelming number of parents at the two public hearings have supported? For the vast majority, we were relegated to the “Other” box on the survey. Thanks to the West Virginia Freedom of Information Act, Ohio County Schools had to disclose that an astounding 229 survey respondents completed the “Other” box and over 200 people expressed the opinion that they wanted a late August or after Labor Day start to the school year.

Based on this response to the survey and the straw polls conducted at the two public hearings, there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that most parents and community members favor the traditional late August or after Labor Day start to the school year.

What remains to be seen is whether Ohio County school officials will recommend and our Board of Education will approve a school calendar which follows what other high academic achieving states have adopted and what the people of Ohio County clearly want – or will the overwhelming opinion of the people, which is bolstered by data from other states, be ignored?

Delk is a Wheeling resident.