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A-F Press Conference

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Thank you for coming – I am WVEA President Dale Lee. As you know the WV Department of Education will be releasing the first school grades tomorrow and we are here this afternoon to discuss the A-F school grading from the perspective of educators.

With me today are a number of educators and they will each be speaking to you shortly. From left to right we have: Gwen Lacy, an elementary teacher in McDowell County; Natalie Laliberty, a principal from here in Kanawha County; and Kelley Spencer Adcock, a National Board Certified teacher at Ripley High School in Jackson County. I would like to thank each of them for participating and remind you that a brief bio of each is included in your press packet.

The WVEA and its members have opposed the A-F grading system from the beginning. We have spoken before the State Board numerous times to express our members’ concern over a misguided representation of what education is about.

The A-F grading in WV, will be like the grading in many other states, and rely almost exclusively on the standardized test results in Math and English Language Arts and some configuration of that data. In no state that uses the grading system is there any evidence that it leads to sustained school improvement-however, many will argue that it has damaged education by having teachers teach to the test and it shows the misplaced priorities and understanding of those who are making decisions about education but have never actually been in a classroom.

The Department of Education will tout the grades as transparency for our schools. Nothing could be further from the truth. The data on which the grades are based is not the foundation for what teaching, education or our schools are about. Nor does it give parents an accurate description of what occurs each day in that school.

These grades are based on a snapshot in time of how students are performing that day on a standardized test. And that really is all it measures – how students performed on a single test on that single day. The test itself was never intended to be used for the purpose of grading our schools but was designed to be a diagnostic guide to help inform instruction and curriculum.

The Department of Education says it relies on multiple measures but nearly all of the measures revolve around what occurred on a specific day with a specific test.

The school letter grade is a means of narrowly defining school “success” chiefly based upon student standardized test scores in select subjects. Our schools have too many variables, too many moving parts, too many different components that make up what happens each day in our public schools.

School letter grades are supposed to provide parents with a means of “understanding the quality of education their child is receiving.” That could not be further from the truth.

As a classroom teacher, I cannot emphasize just how naïve and limited the grading of schools based on the standardized test is. For one, learning is not linear. Learning is complex and cannot be partitioned “a year at a time.” Nor can it be partitioned “by subject.” Nor is it reasonable to conclude that learning occurs at some standardized rate for all learners and that everyone is moving at the same pace or on the same page on a particular day.

And it is foolish to believe that student test scores are clearly and singularly connected to the school the student attends. The link between home and school/community plays a significant role in how well our students perform in our schools.

Poverty is rampant throughout our state and all of society’s other problems come right through the school doors with our students.

Our schools and our educators are not afraid of accountability. Let me say that again – our schools and our educators are not afraid of accountability. They are accountable each day for what occurs in their classrooms and are proud of what goes on in their classrooms.

And while we are using these test scores to hold our schools accountable there is no student accountability on the tests. Our students are tested so much each year that many of them simply don’t care about their scores and put forth little effort.

The fact was clearly evident when the WVDE released the amount of time our students spent taking the test. Some student spent 185 minutes on an exam intended to take 450 minutes. Some students try their best on the tests while others put forth no effort.

Yet based on that single snapshot in time – our students, our teachers, our schools and our communities are labeled.

Since the WVDE first passed this policy our schools have been hit hard financially. If schools receive Ds or Fs they are to get additional help. The policy states the first year that the assistance is to be provided by the county. Where do the counties come up with funds to help those schools?

Many counties can barely afford to keep the doors open. Look at Boone County; they have numerous vacancies they can’t fill. They have no textbooks for students to use and they are barely paying their bills. How are they to assist their low-performing schools?

I use Boone County as an example because it has been in the news lately but there are many other counties suffering similar financial challenges.

To stick these unfair labels on the schools and to be able to offer no additional resources creates other problems. Most states have provided revenue for D and F schools to provide wrap-around services, lower class sizes and afterschool or summer programs. What do we have to offer our schools?

I could go on about this forever but we have others who need to speak.

Let me conclude by saying that our schools are so much more than a letter grade based primarily upon a standardized test. Our schools are these complex places where students come each day to learn. And they learn so much more than the math and English that are measured on those tests on that given day. What happens in our schools each day is magical and it can never be measured by a letter grade on a test.

Click here to view the WVEA's news release for the press conference.