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Martirano releases information about testing commission

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Martirano releases information about testing commission
By Ryan Quinn, The Charleston Gazette-Mail

In a reversal, West Virginia’s state schools superintendent has publicly released the names of members of his new advisory commission on statewide standardized testing and the time and location of its next meeting.

“We appreciate the input we have received from the public and media concerning the desire for a public process and have reconsidered our decision to keep these meetings closed,” Superintendent Michael Martirano said in a news release late Monday afternoon. “I remain committed to transparency and want to make this a completely open process.”

The next Superintendent’s Commission on Assessment meeting will be 10 a.m. Tuesday in Building 6, Room 353 of the Capitol Complex in Charleston. The commission had its initial meeting last month.

The news release comes after some lawmakers publicly complained about the meetings being closed. When contacted Monday by the Gazette-Mail, two delegates — Gary Howell, R-Mineral, and Jim Butler, R-Mason — forwarded to the Gazette-Mail an email from Deputy State Schools Superintendent Cindy Daniel that showed the time and location of the meeting and was addressed to members of the commission.

Butler and Howell, who aren’t part of the commission, declined to publicly state how they obtained the email. The Gazette-Mail again asked the education department Monday to open the meetings after the newspaper noted it had the email.

Sen. Chris Walters — R-Putnam and, alongside Kanawha Democratic Delegate Andrew Byrd, one of the only two lawmakers on the commission — said before Martirano’s reversal Monday that he had nothing to do with closing the meetings and didn’t understand why that decision was made.

“I’ll be as open and transparent about it as I can be,” Walters said. “Because I think that’s the best way to move forward.”

Martirano formed the commission in the wake of the state Board of Education’s recent decision to progress with changing its K-12 math and English language arts education standards — changes state education officials have said could put current tests out of alignment with what students will be learning.

Education department spokeswoman Kristin Anderson said the commission will make recommendations to Martirano on possible changes to standardized testing and he will in turn make recommendations to the state school board. She said there are no state school board members on the commission, though board President Mike Green will be participating in the next meeting as an “advisory member.”

Beyond that, Anderson and Daniel told the Gazette-Mail last month that the department wouldn’t release the names of the commission’s members until it made its final recommendations, likely this spring. And the education department said the meetings wouldn’t be open to the media and the wider public.

Here are the members of the commission released Monday, along with the constituencies the education department says they represent or the positions they hold:

| Adam Green, West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission

| A.J. Rogers, West Virginia Association of School Administrators

| Alyssa Keedy, Governor’s Office

| Andrew Byrd, House of Delegates

| Barbara Zingg, a Jefferson County teacher

| Blaine Hess, West Virginia Association of School Administrators representative and Jackson County Schools superintendent

| Chris Walters, Senate

| Christine Campbell, American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia teachers union president

| Chuck Hatfield, West Virginia Association of School Administrators representative and Putnam County Schools superintendent

| Corley Dennison, West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission

| Courtney Whitehead, Monongalia County’s test coordinator

| Dale Lee, West Virginia Education Association teachers union president

| David Banks, West Virginia Association of School Administrators representative and Morgan County Schools superintendent

| David Lee, Mercer County principal

| Deb Akers, West Virginia Association of School Administrators representative and Mercer County Schools superintendent

| Debbie Smith, Cabell County Schools administrator

| Jack Wiseman, state Department of Education and the Arts

| Jon Duffy, Kanawha County Schools counseling and testing director

| Mickey Blackwell, West Virginia Association of Elementary and Middle School Principals

| Mike Kelley, West Virginia Association Secondary School Principals

| Pat Murphy, Berkeley County school board member

| Ryan Haught, Mid-Ohio Valley Technical Institute director

| Ryan White, Kanawha County school board member

| Sarah Tucker, state Community and Technical College System chancellor

| Sue McGuier, Ohio County’s test coordinator

| Wesley Lilly, Ronceverte Elementary (online directories list him as the assistant/associate principal of that Greenbrier County school)

Following the media reports on the fact the assessment meetings would be closed, Howell wrote a letter to Martirano on Dec. 30 urging him and the state school board to reconsider.

“It is in the best interests of the state for public bodies to meet in the open, accessible to the public,” Howell wrote. “Parents and educators all across the state should be able to follow the progress of these public policy discussions. The sunshine of public awareness and input should be welcomed, not avoided.

“Rather than holding these meetings in secret, these meetings should be streamed live over the Internet using readily available technology.”

In a Dec. 31 response letter that Howell posted on his Facebook page, Martirano wrote that “my leadership style is positive, collaborative, transformational, and hands on.” He said he publicly announced the creation of the commission “to ensure transparency” and that the commission includes a “comprehensive group of stakeholders who represent all aspects of education.”

“The intent of the commission and this series of meetings has never been to discourage public input or meet behind closed doors, but rather to enable a group of stakeholders to facilitate a working session and explore all assessment options,” he wrote. “Although the media recently declared this commission’s meetings ‘secret,’ I can ensure you that is not the case.”

Martirano went on to write that the next meeting would be Tuesday, but didn’t specify the time or location. He also stated the meetings were not subject to open meetings laws because the commission is not a state school board committee nor does it have decision-making authority.

“I fundamentally disagree with his response,” Howell told the Gazette-Mail Monday. “I do believe that this falls under the open meetings act.”

The delegate said he hasn’t had a lawyer look into the situation, but said if attorneys were to find it wasn’t covered by open meetings laws, the laws possibly need to be changed. He argued that not opening the meetings could cause the education needs of sectors like business and agriculture to go unheard.

“The more eyes you have on a problem, the more solutions you get,” Howell argued.

Walters said representatives from the state’s current testing provider, Smarter Balanced, as well as ACT and possibly SAT will be at Tuesday’s meeting. He said he’s hoping to get more information then, but he’s leaning toward recommending getting rid of Smarter Balanced in favor of using the ACT as the main required statewide test in high school and the ACT Aspire tests for lower grades. The federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act update signed by President Barack Obama last month allows for states to replace their standardized tests with the ACT or SAT.