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Monongalia, Ohio county school test scores best in state

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Monongalia, Ohio county school test scores best in state
By Ryan Quinn, The Charleston Gazette-Mail

Monongalia and Ohio were the top-scoring counties, and Barbour, Logan and McDowell were the bottom-scoring counties in math and English/language arts last school year on West Virginia’s new Common Core-aligned standardized test.

Kanawha County ranked No. 14 in math and No. 27 in English, while Putnam County ranked third in math and seventh in English. A significantly lower percentage of students statewide scored at least “proficient” in math on the new test than on the Westest standardized exam it replaced, but state education officials have stressed the two assessments aren’t comparable. Among the differences, they note Westest wasn’t based on the Common Core standards and was easier, while the new exam is meant to better gauge students’ critical thinking skills.

National Assessment of Educational Progress scores released last week also indicate that, for the first time in about 25 years, math scores declined overall on a national scale from one testing year to the next. The NAEP is given every two years to a representative sample of students.

Joanna Burt-Kinderman — a district math coach in the state’s least densely populated county, Pocahontas, which scored among the top five counties in math — said the definition of “proficient” is “wildly different” between Westest and the new standardized exam. Also, proficient on Westest meant scoring in the top three levels on a five-level scale, while proficient on the new test means scoring in the top two levels of a 1-4 scale.

“It’s just not a valid comparison,” said Burt-Kinderman, who’s led a math professional development program in Pocahontas since the 2011-12 school year.

After releasing preliminary statewide proficiency rates in August, the state Department of Education last week published online county-and school-level results for last school year’s general and alternate summative assessments. You can search the results by visiting zoomwv.k12.wv.us and using the options under the State Assessment Results tab at the top of the website.

Four out of 10 Monongalia students in the test grades — 3 through 11 — met proficiency in math last school year, the highest proportion among the state’s 55 counties, while the county’s 56 percent proficiency rate in English/language arts was the state’s second highest. Ohio, in the Northern Panhandle, took the top spot for English, with about six out of every 10 kids meeting proficiency, while it was No. 2 in math, with a 38 percent proficiency rate.

For math, Monongalia, Ohio and Putnam were in the top five scoring counties in both 2014-15 and 2013-14, the last year of Westest. For English, Monongalia and Ohio were also in the top five both years, while Putnam dropped out.

McDowell County had the lowest proficiency rates in both subjects on the new test: 13 percent in math and 31 percent in English. Next to last were Logan and Barbour counties, with 16-17 percent math proficiency rates and about a third of their students proficient in English.

In 2013-14, McDowell, Barbour and Logan were also in the bottom five for math on the Westest, with Barbour tied with Preston County for fifth to last. Only McDowell was in the bottom five in English for both years. Carolyn Falin, McDowell’s assistant superintendent of elementary education, noted the county’s poverty, lack of “highly qualified” teachers and high educator turnover. She noted Mount View High School had four math teaching positions that were filled all last school year by substitutes.

“Students already come with a huge gap, so we have an even bigger gap to close compared to some place else that doesn’t have the poverty, so you put the two together and it makes a double whammy,” Falin said.

Kanawha’s math proficiency rate was two percentage points higher than the 27 percent statewide math proficiency rate, while Putnam students achieved a 37 percent proficiency rate. Kanawha’s English proficiency rate was a little less than the 45 percent statewide proficiency rate in that subject, while Putnam students achieved a 53 percent English proficiency rate.

Of Kanawha’s eight high schools, George Washington had the highest proficiency rates in the two subjects, at 41 percent in math and 68 percent in English, while Riverside, with 8 percent in math and 29 percent in English, had the lowest. Among the four Putnam high schools, Winfield took the top spot at 31 percent in math and 54 percent in English, while Poca came in last at 18 percent in math and 37 percent in English.

The new general assessment, which about 175,000 Mountain State students took in the spring, consists chiefly of the Smarter Balanced tests, which are meant to gauge whether students are meeting the state’s Common Core-based math and English standards.

The general assessment also includes science tests — only for grades four, six and 10 — that resemble the Westest. The state’s current science standards aren’t based on the Common Core; the Common Core, a national standards blueprint adopted by over 40 states, doesn’t contain science standards.

Statewide, the science proficiency rate was 38 percent. Kanawha’s was 36 percent and Putnam’s was 49 percent.

The alternate assessment, which isn’t considered part of the general assessment but is calculated as part of proficiency rates, is only given to about 1 percent of all tested students — only those with “significant cognitive disabilities,” said Vaughn Rhudy, executive director of the state Office of Assessment.

The West Virginia Board of Education is expected to vote this month on possible changes to the state’s Common Core-based standards, which it has already renamed “Next Generation.” The state Department of Education, in partnership with West Virginia University and other entities, launched a review of the standards in July after the state Legislature unsuccessfully attempted to dump them earlier this year. Lawmakers — including gubernatorial candidate and Senate President Bill Cole, R-Mercer — have pledged to continue working to repeal the standards.

Opposition to the standards locally and nationally is intertwined with a backlash against federally mandated standardized testing. The state school board voted last month to again delay using standardized testing as part of math and English teachers’ evaluations, garnering the board praise from teachers unions. In Congress, the Senate and House of Representatives are working on a rewrite of the central legislation regulating K-12 U.S. education — the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or No Child Left Behind — and Michele Blatt, the state education department’s chief accountability and performance officer, has said neither body’s version mentions using standardized tests as part of teacher evaluations.

Earlier this year, the state school board also delayed using standardized test scores to give Mountain State schools and counties A-F grades, greatly reduced the number of students who must take science standardized tests and eliminated social studies standardized testing for all students.