State school board approves reducing standardized testing

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State school board approves reducing standardized testing
By Ryan Quinn, Staff writer

The West Virginia Board of Education Thursday approved a measure eliminating statewide standardized testing in social studies and reducing examinations in science, among several major education changes.

The board also delayed, for at least this school year and next, labeling schools with its new A-F grading system, which takes standardized testing into account.

Board members also OK’d allowing county school districts to return to the traditional math course structure of Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra II or continue with the “integrated” math courses of Math I, II and III that were originally mandated as the state moved to adopt the Common Core-based math education standards.

Those standards were fully implemented this school year. The integrated courses combine algebra, geometry and other math topics in each course.

But Clayton Burch, chief academic officer in the state Department of Education, said the traditional math courses, if districts choose them, will still incorporate the new Common Core-based standards, which are dubbed Next Generation in West Virginia.

Thursday’s votes will only guarantee students the break in standardized testing this spring, though the board could in the future approve a more permanent reduction in social studies and science exams. The traditional math courses will be offered in the next school year but, likewise, the board would have to vote to allow them for further years.

Several board members, however, suggested they want the standardized testing to resume at some point.

Lloyd Jackson noted that West Virginia doesn’t yet have its new science standards finalized — they’re still on public comment following the board’s reversal of its controversial modifications to the teaching of human-driven climate change — and the state perhaps should continue limiting science testing until those education requirements are in place.

But Jackson said he doesn’t want a permanent cessation in science testing, and he’d like statewide standardized testing to return in social studies when a national standards blueprint, like the Common Core standards for math and English/language arts, is formed for that subject area.

Wade Linger said fellow board members need to consider whether they are seriously dedicated to a “new direction.” “Or are we going to fall back on the same old policies that never worked in the past?” Linger said.

The votes on the changes — which were, regardless, unanimous — came after recommendations Thursday from the Department of Education.

In its written recommendations, the department said its suggestions were based off “continued comments from superintendents, principals, teachers, students, parents, [and] legislators about the amount of testing required of students.”

Last school year, only 36.5 percent of West Virginia students were deemed proficient in social studies, down from 38.4 percent in 2012-13, and the lowest rate since 2009-10.

Only 40.6 percent made the cut in science, down from 41.1 percent in 2012-13 and the lowest rate since 2010-11. Without testing this year, much data won’t be available to compare this school year with last.

Burch said the reduction in testing isn’t based on the dropping exam results. Instead, he said the major concern is over-testing. “We continually hear the idea of over-assessing,” Burch said. “We hear that a lot.”

He said there’s also extra concern this year about districts having to focus on switching to the new Smarter Balanced exams in math and English/language arts — tests that are based on the Common Core standards and are replacing the Westest this spring. As for those tests, school officials have conversely discussed methods, including punishments, to ensure enough students take it to produce reliable data.

Statewide math and English/language arts proficiency rates also dropped last school year from 2012-13. The growth in student scores on the Smarter Balanced tests will factor into what letter grades schools receive in the new, statewide A-F school rating system — which is replacing the Accountability Index that has given schools labels like “success” or “priority” since the 2012-13 school year.

Officials said giving those labels will be delayed in order to base them on two consecutive school years of Smarter Balanced testing, this spring and next, instead of trying to gauge student growth by comparing Smarter Balanced testing this year with results from last school year’s Westest.

While social studies won’t have any standardized testing this spring, students will still take standardized science exams in grades four, six and 11.

Michele Blatt, chief accountability and performance officer, said that’s because the U.S. Department of Education requires states to report science testing results from at least one grade each in elementary school, middle school and high school.

In order for schools to be eligible for federal Title I funds, which the government grants to schools with high numbers of free- and reduced-lunch students, states must submit test results in math and English/language arts for grades three through eight and 11.

Burch said West Virginia also voluntarily chooses to test in ninth and 10th grades. The eighth-grade West Virginia Golden Horseshoe social studies exam will remain in place because it’s not part of the regular standardized social studies test.

Standardized testing this spring will take place from March through June.