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Education audits will affect grades of WV schools

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Education audits will affect grades of WV schools
By Ryan Quinn, Education Reporter, Charleston Gazette-Mail

The West Virginia Department of Education will use standardized testing data to calculate grades for schools under the state’s upcoming annual rating system, but Susan O’Brien’s office has the right to suggest lower marks.

O’Brien is executive director of the Office of Education Performance Audits — an agency separate from the Education Department, but also under the state Board of Education’s supervision. Her office sends reviewers into schools to assess factors including their principals’ leadership, their teaching of statewide education standards and their ability to keep students safe.

O’Brien said Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has charged her office with reviewing all 725 public schools across the state over a two year-period. Next school year, the government plans to start assigning schools grades on its new A-F rating system.

O’Brien — who gave a brief overview of the A-F system in Charleston on Friday to county school board members at a state School Board Association conference — said the Education Department will send recommended grades to her office based on the quantitative data it collects, like how well students in each school did on the new Smarter Balanced standardized test.

The exam aims to assess how well students are learning West Virginia’s Common Core-based standards.

The Office of Education Performance Audits then has the right to suggest lower grades for schools where it has detected problems. She said the grade recommendations will then be sent to the state school board, which will have the final vote on what the grades will be.

 “Not only do we look at hard data, but we look at what’s on the ground,” O’Brien told the county school board members Friday.

When asked after the presentation why the qualitative data her office collects can be used only to recommend lower school grades and not suggest higher ones, she told the Gazette-Mail, “If we look at the quality of instruction in a school, I think that’s pretty much going to match up with your student performance data.”

State school board Policy 2320, available on the Education Department’s website, at wvde.state.wv.us/policies, lays out general rules about the A-F grading scale.

It says the OEPA may recommend lowering the grade suggested by the department “if school conditions, as determined in the annual and cyclical reviews, are found to be so adverse and so serious that the grade calculated by the [department] would be a misrepresentation of the school’s overall quality.”

In a message to the Gazette-Mail, Education Department spokeswoman Kristin Anderson said rules further clarifying how the A-F system will operate are still in draft form. She wrote that the draft will be revisited and changes might be made once the department finishes working with standardized testing data.

O’Brien said county superintendents and boards are responsible for working with all schools with a D or lower performance, to improve student achievement. Policy 2320 states that D schools will receive extra support and monitoring by county boards.

It also says the Education Department, the Regional Education Service Agencies and the state Center for Professional Development will provide extra help to D schools. The policy also sets out consequences for getting D’s in consecutive years, including possible intervention in schools by the state school board.

Schools who earn F grades must receive “immediate, direct, and intensive intervention and support.”

In February, the state board voted to delay assigning schools grades on the new system — education officials said this was in order to base the grades on two consecutive school years of Smarter Balanced testing, instead of trying to gauge student growth now by comparing results from the Smarter Balanced test the state first gave last school year with the Westest it gave the year before.