MetroNews, Brittany Murray
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Results of the first-ever West Virginia Schools Balanced Scorecard were unveiled during a meeting of the state Board of Education in Charleston, evaluating accountability ratings for each public school in the Mountain State.
State Superintendent Steve Paine said he’s rather pleased with the results.
“There were really no shocks or surprises other than our attendance rates are lower than I would’ve expected, and part of that has to do with all the reasons that we have in the state code that we need to provide an excused absence,” Paine said.
Paine said the rules of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) doesn’t account for many of the excused absences allowed by the West Virginia State Code.
Rather than acknowledging a missed day of school as an excused absence, Paine said ESSA simply recognizes the day as an absence.
“I’m not sure what’s happening there except we have two sets of standards — one that’s required by the Every Student Succeeds Act and one that is allowed in West Virginia State Code over the years,” he said. “We probably need to reconcile that, look into that and work with the legislature, our schools and our districts to figure out how we can bring that closer together.”
Attendance is rated “partially meets standards” in elementary in middle schools. For high schools, attendance “does not meet standard.”
“We have a strong effort out their to educate kids, but we can’t teach them if they’re not at school,” Paine said.
The good news is that problems with absences haven’t equated into low graduation rates.
“Graduation rates we were very pleased with,” Paine said. “We continue to be a leader in the country in terms of the number of students we graduate from high school, so we were pleased with that.”
However, absentees aren’t the only area where West Virginia’s schools are struggling.
Mathematics performance, particularly at the middle school and high school levels, is low system wide.
“That was no surprise,” Paine said. “We knew that we have had chronically for 30 years low performance in student mathematics.”
But just because those numbers aren’t rising doesn’t mean the schools aren’t making changes in attempt to improve those figures, said Michelle Blatt, assistant superintendent over the Division of Support and Accountability.
“Particularly as we talked to superintendents during the embargo period, they would mention that they put a lot of effort into improving math,” Blatt said. “Last year they had new instructional materials adopted for math, a lot of training around math, and there were a lot of checks.”
Student improvement, even when small, is still a success, Paine said.
“You meet kids where they are, and sometimes they come to us and they’re not at grade level or they have some academic deficiencies or even more fundamentally, they have some issues that are going on socially and emotionally that they need help with,” he said. “But let’s meet them where they are, no matter what level, and then if you’re showing improvement, theoretically that’s what we’re after. Ultimately, we can continue that continueum of improvement toward the end goal.”
With a new assessment system in place, educators throughout the Mountain State are hopeful for some more consistency, so that they have a baseline of ratings to build off of each year.
“I have heard numerous comments from our field representatives that being teachers, principals, superintendents, ‘Can we just stay with one system and one assessment for some time?’ The answer is absolutely yes,” Paine said. “I’m looking forward to the next, who knows how long that I’ll be here, but let’s say four to five years, where we have a common system where we have a baseline this year. Let’s figure out how to roll up our sleeves and improve the outcomes measured by this system, and five years from now we’d love to say we’re far ahead of where we began.”
Achieving that kind of success isn’t just up to the teachers and school staff. Paine and Blatt agreed that parents must take an active role in their child’s education.
“We want to celebrate the successes, but we want the parents to be able to take this snapshot and know the areas that the school is struggling with. If it’s attendance, then what can a PTO or a parent group do to help raise the attendance at that school and support that school,” Blatt said. “We really just want parents and community, along with our district and our school staff, to see this as a continued improvement tool, that there are areas that we need to focus on, and everybody roll up their sleeves and say, ‘The areas that are red at my school, I want to help improve and make a difference.'”
Furthermore, Blatt is hopeful that local districts will bring this information forward at PTO meetings and have discussions with parents.
“You have a Balanced Scorecard here that is color coded based on how your school performed,” she said. “Let’s not just look at the red areas and the green areas, the good and the bad, but let’s look across the dashboard. As a parent, if you see an area that’s red, then ask your principal, ask your child’s teacher, ‘What can we do to support?’ or ‘What can we do to help the schools in this area?'”
Paine added that parents have a responsibility not only to ask those questions but to very specifically ask those questions about their individual children.
“If their children are absent chronically, they have an obligation to get their kids to school,” he said. “We would ask for their support and for their partnership as we try to move forward to improve student achievement outcomes. We have a strong effort out their in our schools to educate kids, but we can’t teach them if they’re not in school.”
Data in the Balanced Scorecard is broken down by county, as well as by individual school, and Paine recommends everyone examining their own individual data to assess where they are.
“It’s not okay to stand still,” he said. “It’s really important that everybody assess the data and create their own individual school strategies to move the needle, the student achievement needle, student outcome and performance measures to improve upon those in every area of the balanced scorecard.”
Read the full results of the Balanced Scorecard here.