School worker pay raise bill stalled; SAT/ACT choice bill advances

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By Ryan Quinn, Charleston Gazette-Mail

As of Friday evening, a week since the West Virginia House of Delegates passed a “clean” public school worker pay raise bill, Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Patricia Rucker hadn’t put it on her committee’s agenda.

Her committee, and others, which will continue to meet Saturday, have been advancing other education bills ahead of the end of this year’s regular legislative session next Saturday. One bill seeks to specifically allow counties to offer tests like the ACT in lieu of the SAT as the high school standardized test.

Here is the recent action, or inaction, on several bills:

Pay raise

Rucker, R-Jefferson, said Friday that she couldn’t say if she plans to ever run the clean pay raise bill (House Bill 2730).

As committee chairwoman, she gets to decide which bills appear on the agenda, and the Senate has assigned the bill to her committee before it can get to the full Senate floor.

“If I did do just a clean pay raise bill, I don’t know that there would be the votes to pass it in the Senate,” Rucker said. She said her personal vote on that “is going to depend on a lot of things” and “a lot of it has to do with trusting that there would be reform coming after that.”

“The Senate is still evaluating what its options are,” she said. She said she couldn’t say if she was considering running the bill but with parts of the failed education overhaul bill in it.

“Just know that everything is available as an option,” she said. She noted that the pay raise was part of the overhaul measure (Senate Bill 451), which also would have allowed charter schools in West Virginia.

“We voted for a pay raise twice in the Senate,” Rucker said of Republican leaders’ past promise for the pay raise, a month before the November elections. “Unfortunately, the House decided to table it, indefinitely. So we feel we have fulfilled our promise; we have passed a pay raise.”

She said, “The governor obviously wants it to be a clean bill, with no conditions, and the Senate disagrees. The Senate believes that education reform is very important.”

When Republicans promised the pay raise, they didn’t mention that the promise would be predicated on other education changes passing.

Free community college tuition

The House Finance Committee advanced Friday night the free public community college tuition bill (Senate Bill 1), after recommending limiting its scope from what House Education had recommended.

The version the Senate sent to the House would make only public, in-state community college programs tuition free. And the eligible programs would be limited to those that “satisfy a workforce need as determined by the Department of Commerce.”

House Education had recommended the bill be expanded to also reduce the cost of the first two years at public and not-for-profit four-year colleges. In the House Education version, Commerce would still pick the qualifying programs.

House Finance recommended Friday paying only for community college programs, plus the associate’s degrees that some public, primarily four-year colleges, still offer. Commerce would still pick the programs.

Only Delegate Jim Butler, R-Mason, voted against advancing the bill Friday. Absent were Delegates Linda Longstreth, D-Marion; Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton; and Erikka Storch, R-Ohio.

SAT/ACT choice

House Education advanced Senate Bill 624 on Friday. SB 624 says the state Board of Education would be required to allow county school boards to use tests other than the SAT as their standardized test for 11th-graders.

The legislation lists the ACT, and no other tests, as an example of what the alternative could be. State Department of Education officials said the department has already asked its federal counterpart for permission to let counties use the ACT, instead of the SAT, and is awaiting a response.

Kristin Anderson, communications executive director for the Education Department, said Gilmer, Pleasants, Raleigh, Tyler and Wetzel counties have expressed intent to use the flexibility.

Despite several delegates expressing concern that the bill could reduce the amount of comparable test data, only Delegate John Doyle, D-Jefferson, voted against advancing the bill.

Absent for the vote were Delegates John Kelly, R-Wood; Matthew Rohrbach, R-Cabell; and Cody Thompson, D-Randolph.

Over the past five years, West Virginia repeatedly has changed its tested grade levels and subjects, and the type of exams it uses, limiting the ability to compare test data from year to year.

Doyle said he voted no because the committee heard from an ACT representative but not from an SAT representative.

Hallie Mason, a lobbyist for the College Board, which produces the SAT, briefly spoke to the committee but said the College Board wasn’t given prior notice of the bill coming up and that she isn’t a testing expert. The committee refused Doyle’s request to delay action on the bill until Monday, when Mason said an SAT expert could be there.

The bill says the choice of test would be “pursuant to the locally selected assessment option provided for in the Every Student Succeeds Act.” ESSA is a federal K-12 education law that establishes standardized test requirements across the nation.

West Virginia Department of Education officials said they believe ESSA requires the state to offer counties the choice, as long as the chosen test meets certain requirements, like actually testing knowledge of the state’s standards. But Wayne Camara of ACT said a state can decide not to offer the choice. He said he knows of only North Dakota and Oklahoma offering a choice in this area.

Camara, on Friday, criticized the SAT’s science test portion, saying the SAT doesn’t actually test that subject.

The College Board won the statewide 11th-grade standardized testing contract through a state bidding process.

The SAT science score, according to College Board’s website, is a “cross-test score” that’s “based on questions in the Reading, Writing and Language, and Math Tests that ask students to think analytically about texts and problems” in the science subject area. The College Board’s bid said that, “while the science component of our assessment is not a content-based science assessment, it is a robust assessment of a student’s ability to succeed in the next phase of learning.”

The state Education Department deemed that ACT’s bid to become the high school standardized test didn’t meet a Technical Minimum Acceptable Score. In a Sept. 20, 2017, bid protest letter, Paul Weeks, ACT’s senior vice president of client relations, said its primary objections were the SAT’s alleged lack of a compliant science assessment and allegedly inconsistent and improper bid point deductions that also would have disqualified the SAT, if applied equally.

The department responded on Oct. 6, 2017, through a letter from Phillip Uy, executive director of its Office of Internal Operations, which said “the RFP does not require science to be assessed through a separate science test.”

Uy wrote that, “As with ACT, the College Board’s science score is not dependent on the student’s specific knowledge of science content and is heavily passage based. Unlike ACT, the items used to derive the College Board science score are not stand-alone items; they are embedded throughout the SAT and also contribute to the score in other tested areas. The method of using passage-based science contexts rather than recall of specific content to determine the science score, like ACT, measures a student’s level of college readiness, including the student’s ability to succeed.”

‘Mastery-based’ education

The Senate Finance Committee, on Friday, advanced House Bill 2009, which creates a new “mastery-based” category of Innovation in Education schools, previously called Innovation Zone schools.

Schools could apply to use the mastery-based model.

Mastery-based would be defined to include several “core principles,” including “student advancement upon mastery of a concept or skill” and “differentiated support based on a student’s individual learning needs.”

Counsel for the committee explained that students in these schools essentially would move up in grade levels not based on time, but based on showing mastery in a lesson.