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Edgewood Elementary will be a clean slate for West Side schools

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When the new Edgewood Elementary School opens next year, it will have a new building, new principals, new teachers — and a clean slate when it comes to federal achievement standards.  

When the $22 million building opens in the fall of 2014, two struggling schools on Charleston's West Side — J.E. Robins and Watts elementaries — will be folded into the new "school of the future."

Neither of those schools has been exemplary in the recent past. J.E. Robins hasn't made "adequate yearly progress" for two years. It's been four years since Watts met those same federal achievement standards.

Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP, was at the heart of 2002's No Child Left Behind Act, president George W. Bush's sweeping education law.

The accountability standards measure children each year — mainly through annual standardized testing — to see if they're coming closer to proficiency in basic subjects. More students are expected to test better each year.

If a school fails to meet those benchmarks, it is subject to a number of increasingly severe consequences.

But at the new Edgewood school, even though the two schools being consolidated have been taking tests and measuring their own progress for years, the new school represents a clean slate.

Because AYP is based on progress from year to year, it can't be taken into account for two years after a school opens — one year to test students and measure a base score, and then another year before results can be compared to those early scores.

That's standard practice. It also happened when Mary C. Snow West Side was opened in 2011.

"My understanding is it's kind of a grace period while things are reconfigured," said Bill Mullett, director of counseling and testing for Kanawha County Schools.

Tom Williams is the school system's assistant superintendent for curriculum.

"In the past it's been that it starts over as a brand new school," he said. "When a new school opens, they get to start with a clean slate."

That said, school administrators all over the state are holding their breath, waiting for the results of a request the state Department of Education made for an exemption from No Child Left Behind.

If approved, the state could be granted a waiver allowing it to use its own accountability system instead of the federal version, which is widely viewed as too harsh. Thirty-four other states already have applied for and been granted waivers.

State officials have said they believe that waiver is coming soon. The state Department of Education has been working with federal officials since September 2012 to develop an acceptable state accountability system.

"We're still working through what the ramifications are in switching to the new standards," Mullett said. "But the performance of students is the determining factor in what will drive the accountability factors."

And Williams emphasized that the new school's testing proficiency won't necessarily be its most important feature.

"Its success would depend on the staff and the leadership in the school as everything else does," he said. "You know the staff can work and work and sometimes they just don't get here, and there are a lot of reasons they just don't make AYP sometimes. But as goes the staff, so goes the school."

Contact writer Shay Maunz at shay.maunz@dailymail.com or 304-348-4886.

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