School A-F grades vary greatly in some counties

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School A-F grades vary greatly in some counties
By Sarah Plummer, The Register-Herald

The release of the newly implemented West Virginia Department of Education A-F accountability rating revealed disparity among schools in many counties.

For instance, in Nicholas County alone, Mt. Nebo Elementary recieved an A while Dixie Elementary an F.

Most counties with schools that received an F, like Fayette and Raleigh counties, also saw a swath of Bs, Cs and Ds.

A total of 668 public schools received letter grades. That does not include vocational schools or facilities slated to close at the end of the school year, said Kristin Anderson, WVDE director of communications.

Of those, 45 (6.7 percent) schools received an A, 162 (24.3 percent) received a B, 356 (53.3 percent) received a C, 90 (13.5 percent) received a D, and 15 (2.2 percent) received an F.

For this first year of implementation, a standard bell curve was used to establish a baseline and assign grades. For this reason, it is not unexpected that more than 50 percent of schools received a C. Because of the curve, the results reveal most about the highest and lowest performing schools as well as cross-county achievement.

The baseline will remain constant until 65 percent of schools reach an A or B grade.

Under the letter system, which is meant to be more transparent and easy to understand for parents and citizens, the State Board of Education considers A - C grades acceptable.

An A is defined as "distinctive performance," B as "commendable," C as "acceptable," D as "unacceptable" and F as "lowest performance."

The letter grades are assigned based on the percentage of students who met grade level expectations on state assessments, the percentage of students who are improving and who are on target to reach expectations in test subjects, graduation rates, attendance, reduction of the number of students at-risk of dropping out, and, for high schools, college and career readiness.

Individual schools and school districts have had their data for a month, during which time 134 schools appealed the letter grade and asked for data verification, said Chief Accountability Officer Michele Blatt.

Ten schools had letter grades raised through the appeal process.

Their letter grades hold individual schools accountable, but they also impact countywide accreditation. Counties with all Cs or better receive accreditation. Counties with schools who received a D or F receive temporary accreditation and must improve their grades.

For now, school-level improvements will be left up to the county, but if a school receives a low grade without improvement for a second year, the state will get involved and implement comprehensive improvement framework, she said.

The A-F system fulfills a federal requirement that all states must implement a state-determined accountability system based on multiple measures under the Every State Succeeds Act.

Many teachers and principals have expressed concern over using an A-F system.

At a press conference Tuesday in Charleston, West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee said school letter grades too narrowly define a school's success by focusing on standardized test scores in select subjects.

Standardize scores are meant to be "snapshots in time," not a way to grade schools or inform instruction and curriculum, according to Lee.

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