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Hoppy Kercheval: State superintendent sticks to 180 days

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Hoppy Kercheval: State superintendent sticks to 180 days
WV MetroNews

The public school year in some West Virginia counties ended with a kind of educational malaise; poor student attendance, many teachers out, no real instruction, grumbling by parents that their kids had to attend school well into June and a general waste of time.

The worst problems were in counties that missed a lot of days because of winter weather.  Their school year was extended to reach the required 180 days of instruction.  We heard anecdotal reports of near-empty busses and attendance in some schools below ten percent.

State superintendent of schools Dr. Michael Martirano says he cannot confirm those reports, but his official figures show attendance dipped as low as 66 percent in some counties that continued classes into June, and that’s unacceptable. “For me, anything below 90 percent is unconscionable,” he said.

Martirano made that clear when he met with county school superintendents Wednesday, telling them that he was “highly disappointed” after hearing reports that “quality instruction was not occurring, that students were not attending school and that parents were keeping them out.”

The excuses are piling up: it was too hot, there’s no magic to 180 days, we had vacation planned, the seniors have been out for month, teachers stop teaching after the standardized test, the kids won’t pay attention, on and on.

The easy course here would be to soften on the 180 days, provide counties the leeway to get close and then give a wink and a nod when they settle back into a comfort zone calendar that accommodates a long Christmas break, deer season, Spring break, snow days and still wraps up the year by the end of May.

But Martirano doesn’t want to give in, and that’s encouraging.  He says he won’t back away from the 180 and he has the support of Governor Tomblin. Granted there’s no particular magic to the number “180,” but stressing the importance of instructional time is an important component of the attempt to change the culture in West Virginia where too often public education is not a priority.

There are still issues to be resolved concerning when standardized tests are given, how long they take and why instructional time fades after the test.  School officials must sort those out so instructional time is not wasted.

But now that every superintendent knows the Governor and Martirano are not going to budge on the 180, they can adjust their calendars accordingly and avoid limping to the end of the 2015-2016 school year.