Daily Mail editorial: What grade to give the WV public school grading system?

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Daily Mail editorial: What grade to give the WV public school grading system?

On the surface, it would make sense to grade West Virginia’s public schools on an A through F system. After all, isn’t that how students are measured?

Yet, it is much more complicated to tell how well a school — that collective organization of students, teachers, administrators, staff and community — is performing.

For instance, in Kanawha County, Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary and Riverside High School were among the two percent of schools statewide which received a grade of F.

Riverside actually scored a C, reported the Gazette-Mail’s Ryan Quinn. But since at least 90 percent of students did not participate in mandatory standardized tests, the school’s grade was automatically lowered to an F — as if it got a bad grade for not completing the final.

But despite the failing grade, Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary and Riverside High are not failing schools.

They are schools with significant challenges for the students who attend them. They are schools that have dedicated teachers, staff and administrators who are making a positive difference in the lives of hundreds of children.

“The children live in a community littered with dilapidated houses and characterized by high rates of concentrated poverty, single female headed households, substance abuse, domestic violence, crime, drug trafficking and child abuse and neglect,” wrote the Rev. Matthew J. Watts in a Gazette Opinion column Friday regarding the Mary C. Snow attendance area. It’s worth considering that the letter grade for Mary C. Snow Elementary — and any school — is more of a grade on the capacity of the community to support the area’s children than it is on the quality of the school’s teachers and administrators.

While the grading system is well-intended, it deserves an F in informing the public of how well a school is actually doing in educating the kids who come through its doors.

“Schools are not like individual students that can make drastic and quick changes in grades in a short time period,” blogged Kanawha County teacher and local business person Dana Ferrell earlier this year.

“Anyone who knows anything about social, cultural and geopolitics understands that schools don’t have much control over the exterior dynamics that enter their classrooms each day. Drugs, unemployment, poverty and depression are just a few of the factors that enter a school’s doorways and effect performance.”

“Battling and changing these factors can take years or decades to change, if ever,” Ferrell wrote. “And once a school gains a negative status, it can send them into a spiral that will make it even tougher to make changes.”

Teaching kids involves more than academic success and standards. Considering the difficult circumstances many kids face at home, teachers often are trying to help children learn basic skills and basic behavior.

The grading system does not measure the rate of success academically for children who enter the door at a low level due to conditions at home. It doesn’t show how much some kids are inspired to improve by loving teachers. Therefore, the unintended consequence of the A-F system will likely be a long-term stereotyping of communities.

While the school system and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin deserve credit for trying better ways to assess school performance, this is one method that needs to be sent back and marked Incomplete.