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New education accountability system similar to No Child Left Behind says principal

Only about a quarter of West Virginia schools met state-mandated requirements in student proficiency and academic growth according to data released by the state Department of Education. The results, based on WESTEST scores from this year, are the first to be released under the state’s new accountability system, created by West Virginia education experts.  While department leaders see the new system as a step forward for West Virginia students, the principal of one school said he’s still waiting to see the major changes roll out.

“We improved literally across the board in all subject content areas.”

Scott Davis is the assistant principal at Robert C. Byrd High School in Clarksburg and is in charge of curriculum. One of five high schools in Harrison County, Davis said Byrd’s more than 800 students are performing well overall according to the WESTEST results he received over the summer, but they showed some trouble in 11th grade science.
“Other than that,” Davis said, “everything else went up and some significant gains between 9 and 10 percent in some areas. I mean, I didn’t think there was any chance that we would have to worry about anything other than being a transition school or maybe even a success school.”

Those transition and success designations Davis is referring to are part of the state’s new accountability system, rolled out just last week.

The state received a waiver in May allowing it to move away from the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind program and create its own system to calculate academic progress. The new system is based on measures that include whether students are meeting grade level expectations or how much a school has closed its achievement gaps between sub-groups as well as others.

The system then divides schools into five designations. They are success, transition, focus, support or priority schools in descending order and are given data from the state department to clarify the rankings.

Dr. James Phares is the state Superintendent of Schools.

“The data that we’re getting now is a lot cleaner and it’s a whole lot more specific which will give not only our teachers, but also our principals the opportunity to develop their resource base and make decisions based on where that is,” said Dr. James Phares, state superintendent of schools.

Robert C. Byrd was named one of 89 support schools in the state, which Phares said makes the school eligible for additional funding should the county choose to allocate it.

“Anything that would give us more access to things to better enhance our better educational experience for students, I’m all for it,” Davis said.

“We made academic gains in literally almost all, if not all curricular areas across the board so if they’re going to provide us the funds that are going to continue to help grow that then I’m all for it, but I don’t know if funding is going to help the participation rate.”

That participation rate, not academics, is why Davis said his school was ranked so poorly and why he said they’ll be focusing on student accountability to make up for it.

“If you have student accountability and you have student ownership in your building then one would think that your participation rate, your attendance rate, your drop out rate, your graduation rate and all those things in the accountability index are going to be better,” Davis said.

All of those examples, participation, attendance, graduation rates, they’re all measurements for high schools under the state’s new system, but Davis said that’s nothing new.

From the data he was provided by the state department, he said how the school’s progress is being assessed seems almost the same as it was under No Child Left Behind.

“I think it’s incredibly similar in the sense that we still had the participation rate as one of the factors, we still had all the subgroups such as special education, economically disadvantaged,” he said.

“So, all of that stuff still happens and they’re still looking at the gap of those students compared to non-special education students. I think the accountability index formula, I think there’s a lot of factors that go into it, and I don’t know if its better or its worse, but I think it’s very similar.”

Phares maintained the new system is an improvement. He said by breaking down the data principals and teachers can more easily see the areas they need to improve upon and it gives them more flexibility in how to get there.

“No Child Left Behind in my mind’s eye was about throwing out life preservers,” he said. “This allows the state Department of Education and local education agencies to have a lighthouse to guide them on how to get these students to where they need to be.”

Davis admitted the new system is exactly that, new, and not all of the areas of change have been laid out for administrators and teachers just yet.

“What it’s going to look like in the next three months I think is still kind of to be determined or at least to be seen by us,” Davis said. “We’re not real sure what it’s going to look like for our school.”

Phares said the new accountability system won’t transform student achievement overnight, but believes it will make a difference in time.

Davis said he expects it to make a big change, but is still waiting to see how the new system at the state level will affect his school.

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