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Gazette-Mail editorial: WV education still has a long way to go

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Charleston Gazette-Mail

Hats off, to Kenna Elementary School, for exceeding West Virginia state standards in every category by which the school is measured. Congratulations also, to Evans Elementary, in Jackson County, which exceeded in every category but one.

In a state where education has been a leaning Jenga tower, with standards adopted then jettisoned, sweeping policy changes frequently proposed and, in some cases, enacted, and public school teachers having to fight for better pay and stability, any school that is able to land high marks should be applauded.

Of course, the fact that only two schools in the state hit those high targets points to how far West Virginia has to go toward improving education on all fronts.

 

The school accountability scores are determined by examining six categories at the elementary level: English language arts performance, English language arts progress, math performance, math progress, attendance and behavior.

The first four categories are judged by standardized test scores. The attendance ranking is determined by how small a share of the school’s students miss more than 10 percent of the school year. The behavior ranking depends on a ratio of out-of-school suspensions compared to a school’s overall enrollment. It’s important to note that the categories by which high schools are judged are not the same.

The state rankings, or scores, in each category can be “Does Not Meet Standard,” “Partially Meets,” “Meets” or “Exceeds.” So, Kenna obtained “Exceeds” in all six categories, while Evans obtained the same ranking for everything but attendance.

It’s worth noting what Kenna Principal Leah Ernest told Gazette-Mail reporter Ryan Quinn when talking about how the school was able to top out in every category.

“Our focus is on, you know, educating our students and helping them to become productive adults one day, and they have such a will to learn and we have such great parent involvement and amazing teachers, it all kind of comes together,” she said.

Significantly missing is any mention of “teaching to the test,” which so often gets in the way of actually educating students. Now look at what is mentioned: eagerness from the students, strong community involvement and great teachers.

It takes a combination of a lot of things for any school to be successful. Kenna is lucky to have all of them working in their favor. Unfortunately, this also shines a light on one of West Virginia’s biggest problems not just in student achievement, but overall education.

Kenna is in Charleston’s South Hills area, an affluent part of town where children aren’t necessarily struggling with issues like hunger, homelessness or an unstable environment. Does this mean all of the students come from happy, wealthy families with no problems? Of course not. In fact, 26 percent of Kenna’s students, according to the West Virginia Department of Education, are categorized as living in “low socioeconomic status.” That’s slightly more than one in four children. However, the statewide average is 49 percent — the near equivalent of a coin flip.

Time and again, the numbers have shown a direct correlation between family income and student success. And even those who come from a poorer household are going to benefit at a school where poverty and home stability are less of an issue and parents and volunteers have the time and resources to be involved, creating a strong school community.

No doubt, Kenna teachers have to go well beyond what used to be the typical role of just teaching. But they are probably able to focus on education more than some of their colleagues working in areas where children don’t have stable families or homes and are showing up with little sleep, no school supplies and empty stomachs.

Like so many other things in West Virginia, it is going to take a major economic surge to really reshape the performance of schools across the state. What form that might take is anyone’s guess. Money might not buy happiness, but it sure leads to better opportunities for children and stronger communities surrounding them.