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Nearly 40 percent of WV schools show improved student performance

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Statewide, just over a quarter of schools met all the state-mandated criteria for performance and growth last year.

That's 184 out of all of the state's 652 public schools. Another 251 schools -- nearly 40 percent -- showed at least some progress in improving student performance. The rest -- about 33 percent of schools -- showed sub-par performance in the last year and failed to make meaningful gains over previous years.

This data, released Wednesday morning by the state Department of Education, was culled from the results of standardized tests taken by all West Virginia's students last year. It grouped West Virginia schools into five categories based on several performance indicators.

A website that allows users to check an individual school's performance went live as the data was released. 

In Kanawha County, 27 schools were given the top designation, meaning they met all the benchmarks and made meaningful gains over previous years. Three schools -- J.E. Robbins, Watts and Mary C. Snow West Side elementary schools -- were classified as "priority" schools, meaning they have historically had low performance.

Performance data is released each academic year, but this year's data looks markedly different than it has in years past: this is the first look we've gotten at West Virginia's new state-developed accountability system.

That system was developed as West Virginia applied for a waiver allowing it to ignore much of the federal education law known as No Child Left Behind. The U.S. Department of Education granted that request in May, accepting instead West Virginia's homegrown alternative.

That new system, part of which is called the Elementary and Secondary Education Act Waiver, places every school in one of five categories: each school is labeled as a Success, Transition, Focus, Support or Priority School.

Success and Transition schools show at least some achievement that is on target. Support and Priority schools fail to log achievement that meets those targets -- to be labeled a Priority a school must also be persistently one of the lowest performing in the state, with sub-par performance over the last three years.

Focus schools show large gaps in achievement between subgroups, like differences in the performance of poor students and their peers that come for a more favorable socioeconomic background.

Officials are touting this new method it as a more comprehensive and transparent way to examine West Virginia's schools.

"The new accountability system is not about comparing one school to another, it's a focus just on that school," Phares said. "The system is about keeping your eye on the finishing line, not looking at the lane to the left of you, the lane to the right of you."

"Despite where a student starts we're moving that school forward toward proficiency. There are various starting points for students in schools and the finish line is the same."

Extra resources will be funneled to schools that receive a sub-par classification. Officials at those schools are also expected to work with state officials to execute a plan to improve achievement.

Under the new system, students' observed growth is also measured, and weighted against an amount of growth that is defined as adequate.

"Every student must be improving, whether they're a high-performing or low-performing student," Phares said.

Officials say that trend data indicates that students at all grade levels are improving in all subjects -- but State Superintendent of Schools Jim Phares said "those improvements are too small."

Of the 133,000 students tested last year, 46 percent were proficient in math. Results showed disparities between average students and their peers in specially identified subgroups though: only 33 percent of African-American students were proficient in math, 39 percent of students from homes with low socioeconomic status and 20 percent of special education students.

In reading, 49 percent of all students were proficient -- 39 percent of African-American students, 41 percent of low socioeconomic status students and 17 percent of special education students.

The same data show that fewer students met the proficiency mark in 2013 than in 2012.

Of the 47 percent of students who were proficient in math, only 64 percent are keeping up with growth expectations -- the other 36 percent can be expected to fall behind their peers in coming years.

Among students who did not test proficient in math, 27 percent are on track to catch up to their peers within the next three years -- the other 73 percent are not showing growth that indicates they will do so.

In reading, 70 percent of the students who scored proficient are keeping up with growth expectations, and 30 percent seem to be on track to fall behind. Among those who were not proficient this year, 32 percent are catching up with their peers' growth levels, while the other 68 percent are not.

The system also takes into account growth on the school level -- even when a school is given "success" status, it must continue to improve each year to maintain that ranking.

The new accountability system will work in tandem with a new accreditation system that is currently being developed by the Office of Education Performance Audits.

That system will take test scores into account, as evaluated by the state's new system, and will also look at the total operation of each school.

Gus Penix, director of the Office of Education Performance Audits, said that the two systems can "work in concert to leverage improved student performance and to improve the quality of school operations and learning conditions." Beginning with the 2014-15 school year officials will begin an on-site review process in all West Virginia schools.

Contact writer Shay Maunz at or 304-348-4886.


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