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West Virginia schools get A to F grades starting today

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West Virginia schools get A to F grades starting today
By Brad McElhinny, WV MetroNews

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia’s public schools start getting graded A-F today.

The new grading system made its debut during a state school board meeting, although it has been in development for months. Parents and community members can see an explanation and schools’ report cards at www.mywvschool.org.

Most of West Virginia’s 668 schools that were graded earned Cs because the initial results were produced on a bell curve. Now that standards for each grade are in place, they’ll remain so schools can earn better (or worse) grades in future years. Cs and above are considered acceptable by the state board.

In an introductory letter about the new system, state schools Superintendent Michael Martirano and school board president Mike Green said they hope it will be a valuable tool for parents:

“Letter grades of A through F are used so results can easily be understood`by parents and the community. Under this new system, schools will be held accountable for what is considered their core mission — increasing student achievement.”

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin charged the state school board with creating the A through F system for schools in 2014. The state school board approved the policy shortly after that, and it’s been in development until now.

Similar systems have been implemented in other states — and some have drawn criticism.

Alabama’s state school board paused its letter grade system for schools but released data sets about educational attainment instead. The Oklahoma state education department also ran into heavy criticism for its system, including from educators. The Salt Lake Tribune weighed in with an editorial: “Utah’s system of grading schools just makes everything worse.”

Most of the criticism in other states had to do with the data that was selected to grade the schools and whether it accurately indicates school performance or improvement.

The West Virginia Education Association, one of the unions that represents educators, is already raising alarms about the A through F system. The teachers union says there are  “real questions about the validity and fairness of such systems.”

“The WVEA and its members have opposed the A-F grading system from the beginning,” said WVEA President Dale Lee. “We have spoken before the state board numerous times to express our members’ concern over a misguided representation of what education is about.”

West Virginia education officials hope parents — and even schools — regard the letter grade system as a helpful tool.

“The system was adopted as a means of being transparent,” said Kristin Anderson, spokeswoman for the state Department of Education. “It’s not meant to be punitive.”

An introductory statement from the state school board noted that several steps have been taken to ensure the accuracy of the data leading to the grades.

Staff had a series of training events during  the past six months to help superintendents and principals understand the standards.

Training was also provided so school staff could review and verify data for their schools. Embargoed information was given to schools a month ago to let them review their scores and confirm accuracy.

“Overall, for the most part, our principals and superintendents think their scores are pretty much what they would expect,” said Michele Blatt, chief accountability officer for the state school system. “We’ve had a lot of good discussions around the data points.”

The state education department will calculate the grades for schools every year, based on multiple measures of success. From there, the system is aimed at helping schools identify strengths and weaknesses, establish goals and develop a plan for continuous improvement.

School grades are determined on a range of standards. The bulk — 83 percent — are based on showing proficiency and improvement in subject areas like math and language arts. The rest — 17 percent — are considered non-performance metrics considering factors such as attendance, graduation rates, passage of Advanced Placement exams and dual-credit courses.

Schools earn an automatic F if they don’t test at least 90 percent of their students.