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West Virginia Schools Moving Forward With Standardized Testing

File Photo (provided)

WHEELING — Standardized testing in West Virginia schools will still take place this school year, even though student learning platforms haven’t been typical.

“Absolutely it is going to happen,” said Walt Saunders, assessment and federal programs director for Ohio County Schools. “It’s a federal mandate. We have to test students.”

Last year, West Virginia received a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education to not conduct the West Virginia General Summative Assessment (WVGSA), said Christy Day, director of communications for the West Virginia Department of Education.

“This year, the tests will be administered; however, the WVDE is requesting the U.S. Department of Education waive the accountability requirements,” she said. “Instead, the WVGSA will only be used to give us a better understanding of students’ academic learning losses and gains experienced during the pandemic.”

The state of West Virginia also is requesting a second waiver to a requirement that school districts show that at least 95 percent of students enrolled have been tested. Saunders termed this “a very high standard” to achieve even during typical years.

In Ohio County, the mandate poses an even bigger challenge in 2021, as about 20 percent of students there continue to learn remotely at home amid COVID-19 concerns.

“We are going to do whatever it takes to bring them into the building and get them isolated so we can test them,” Saunders said.

The West Virginia General Summative Assessment (WVGSA) is administered annually to students in grades 3-8. The WVDE describes it as “an online summative test given toward the end of the school year to measure student performance on the state’s content standards, which provide clear, consistent guidelines for what students should know and be able to do at each grade level.”

The SAT college entrance examination, meanwhile, is given to high school students on SAT School Day each year and serves as the state’s general summative assessment for high school students. It is administered on paper to all 11th-grade students, except those who take the West Virginia Alternative Summative Assessment.

SAT School Day is set for April 13 at Wheeling Park High School. The testing window for the WVGSA, meanwhile, is open now across the state.

Saunders said middle and elementary school principals can decide when to administer the WVGSA and create a testing schedule, but he expects principals won’t schedule testing until sometime in May.

“The later the better,” Saunders said. “Let’s not take that picture now. Let’s get fourth grade done before testing them on fourth grade information.”

The state also is expected to ask for a waiver requesting that it not have to release the results of this year’s testing. But Saunders said that doesn’t mean those results aren’t important to the state’s educators.

“From a teaching perspective, it is important to know where the students are academically,” he explained. “That way you know if you have to review. This is important for teachers, the students and their family members.

“The students will know if they have to play catch-up and take summer school. Why start next year behind?”

Saunders said Ohio County Schools has done some preliminary testing of students — some while at home, and others while in their school classrooms. The results proved interesting, he said.

The remote students overall scored higher on the examination than did students taking being tested in the classroom. He wasn’t certain as to why.

“I think people were nervous the students wouldn’t do as well, but the data is not supporting that,” Saunders said. “They are not as far behind as people have been talking about.”

He reports the school district as a whole scored only slightly below established benchmarks. There just didn’t appear to be any growth.

“If a student had problems with fractions four years ago, they had problems again this year,” he said. “What they struggled with before they are struggling with through (the COVID pandemic). The scores are a little lower, but not anywhere near the big achievement gap you hear about,” he said.

At WPHS, Associate Principal Adrienne Richards said juniors are getting ready for the upcoming SAT testing.

“The students’ scores will still be reported to universities and colleges and for scholarships the same as before,” she said.

The students take two preliminary SAT (PSAT) tests prior to SAT School Day. Results from these are used by teachers to focus their instruction on where students need improvement, she said.

“Obviously we know there are learning gaps due to the pandemic,” Richards said.

Ohio County Schools will still do its “mapping,” or ” management of academic progress,” based on the test scores, according to Saunders.

“We are still going to be responsible for assessment,” he said. “Even if the state gets the waiver, there won’t be one next year. The need for accountability is still there.”

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