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Editorial: Results not so clear in new school grading system

Sep. 08, 2013 @ 03:56 PM

The results of West Virginia's venture into establishing its own system for grading school performance was unveiled last week, with the approach and presentation of findings done much differently than in previous years.

After being granted a waiver from the regulations tied to the No Child Left Behind act passed by Congress a decade ago, the West Virginia Department of Education devised the new achievement grading system and incorporated its own ways of assessing schools.

There's much to like about what it came up with, going beyond just the results of how well students did last year on the WESTEST2 achievement tests taken last spring. Factored in are the graduation rates for high schools and the attendance rates for elementary and middle schools -- two features reflecting how well the schools are engaging students and helping them succeed.

For the first time, the assessment reflects whether students are progressing toward expected levels of proficiency on school subjects rather than just spelling out whether they are proficient or not. That's important to know in terms of whether a school is headed in the right direction. In addition, the Department of Education has translated how the results will be used to determine which schools are in line for assistance to try to overcome their shortcomings.

But, as often occurs when a major change is made in anything, confusion can set in.

For years now, the public has become accustomed to the findings presented under the framework of the No Child Left Behind Act, with its assessment of whether a school made adequate yearly progress. That information also included a more straightforward school-by-school accounting of the percentage of students meeting proficiency standards.

The state's reporting on school-by-school performance under the new system isn't quite so clearcut, which is a shortcoming.

The state has devised an indexed scoring system for each school. It allows a certain number of points for various categories, such as how many students are performing at grade level, achievement gaps among various groups of students and so on. The results for each category is reflected in percentages with so many points awarded.

But in what is presented to the public on the Department of Education's website, the more straightforward information -- such as what percentage of students in fifth-grade at a particular school are proficient in reading or math -- is not available. State officials have that information, of course, as do school officials no doubt. But the general public is left with a less-than-understandable picture.

State officials did offer some statewide perspective on the data, and the results were much in line with what we've seen before, indicating that the state's schools have much work to do. For example, data from the WESTEST 2 showed that slightly less than half of students were proficient in math and reading. From 2012 to 2013, the number of students who met the proficiency mark on the WESTEST 2 has decreased, and well more than half of students who did not meet proficiency rates showed no academic improvement.

Those are troubling signs. That type of information made more readily available for each school could help the public -- and parents, in particular -- understand the challenges in their children's education. That in turn could convince parents to encourage their children to do better.

Going forward, we hope that the basic results of students' performance at each school is more transparent for the public to see.



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