State school board eases end-of-year testing requirement

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State school board eases end-of-year testing requirement
By Samuel Speciale, Education reporter, Charleston Gazette

The West Virginia Board of Education will not use test scores to determine teacher and school performance grades for at least one year and voted Wednesday to relax some of its testing policies while the state transitions to a new set of standardized assessments.

End-of-year student assessments, for years, have included mandatory testing in science and social studies in addition to math and English. This spring, however, the board will not require students to be tested in social studies and will only administer science assessments to fourth-, sixth- and 10th-graders. Unlike math and English, the federal Department of Education does not currently call for testing in social studies, and while states are required to test in science, it only has to be done once in elementary, middle and high school.

Some board members were concerned relaxing policy to only meet minimum requirements would negatively affect STEM education, but state Department of Education officials said the waiver would only be a one-year break to allow students, teachers and parents to take “a breath.”

Board members also were assured the lack of science assessments in some grades would not change the way teachers test throughout the year.

While social studies testing will go on hiatus, department officials said there are no planned changes for the West Virginia Golden Horseshoe exam, a state history test taken each year by eighth-graders.

The science and social studies testing waivers will only be in effect for one year, State Superintendent Michael Martirano said. Should board members decide to continue waiving the testing requirements next year, board members would have to go through the approval process again.

In a lengthy presentation Wednesday, Martirano also explained ways the department is addressing concerns surrounding end-of-year assessments. After years of using the WESTEST, the department recently switched to the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, which will be administered this spring for the first time.

The department has been criticized for its handling of the transition, which started last year when the WESTEST was converted to an online-only test, a move that was the source of many problems across the state.

Because board policy ties test scores to teacher and school performance grades, teachers unions have been concerned that having three different tests in as many years will reflect poorly on those grades when they come out later this year. Test scores account for 15 percent of a teacher’s evaluation score and are used to determine a school’s performance grade.

While Martirano was adamant the department is not backing down from its promise to improve student achievement, he said he has heard the concerns and wants to make sure the state “is getting this right.”

“Simply put, we are taking a year to pause,” he said.

Testing data will still be collected and analyzed at the state and county level this year, but teacher and school grades will not be affected until the second cohort in 2016.The board also approved a waiver that will grant more flexibility in what math courses districts can offer. When it adopted Common Core, the state switched to integrated math, which does not cover a topic like algebra or geometry a grade at a time like traditional math courses do. Districts now can choose which sequence to use.