OPINION: Report Card for Ohio County Schools

By David Delk

Weelunk.com Contributor

Each year the West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE) evaluates the performance of each public school in the state and assigns each school a performance designation. First, the schools receive an index score between 0 and 100, with 100 being the best. This score is comprised of five different performance criteria:

1) Proficiency (How many students at the school perform at grade level expectations, or are “Proficient”?);

2) Achievement Gaps Closed (How well and much has the school closed its achievement gap between different groups of students?);

3) Observed Growth (How much have individual students grown regardless of their starting proficiency level?);

4) Adequate Growth (How close are students are from reaching their grade level expectations?);

5) Attendance or Graduation Rate.

Each of these five factors is afforded a different percentage weight for each school as determined by the WVDE. Each school also is assigned an index target for each year between 2012 and 2020, as the state set a goal that every child is at least 75 percent proficient in reading and math by the 2020 year. Therefore, each year the goal is for every school to meet or exceed the amount it would have to improve that year to be on track to hit that 75 percent mark by 2020 – meaning that high performing schools already are at or near target goals and are required to show little or no improvement from year to year, and lower performing schools are expected to meet ambitious index targets each year.

Depending on a school’s index score and certain other target criteria, the school will receive one of five designations from the WVDE. The department released its school performance ranking to the public on Dec. 5, 2014, for the recent the 2013-14 school year. See below for a description of each ranking and how Ohio County fared:

  • Success”: The school has met its index target score, and the majority of its subgroups are making academic progress [Steenrod Elementary, West Liberty Elementary, Woodsdale Elementary]
  • Transition”: The school has met its target score and/or has demonstrated that a majority of its subgroups are making academic progress [Bethlehem Elementary, Elm Grove Elementary, Middle Creek Elementary, Ritchie Elementary, Triadelphia Middle, Wheeling Middle]
  • Support”: The school has not met its target score and has not demonstrated that a majority of its subgroups are making sufficient academic progress [Madison Elementary, Wheeling Park High]
  • Priority”: A school that is among the lowest performing schools in the state based on student proficiency rates in mathematics and reading [None in Ohio County]
  • Focus”: A school among those with the largest achievement gaps between student subgroups in the state. It’s important to note that a Focus school is one that was designated in 2012, and — oddly enough — that school must remain in that category regardless of improvements made. No new Focus schools could be designated last year or this year. [Bridgestreet Middle, Warwood School]

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The WVDE has designated about 25 percent of Ohio County Schools as Success schools during the last two years.  This performance is better than most counties in West Virginia but not as good as school districts like Kanawha, Monongalia, Jefferson and Morgan counties which all have a higher percentage of Success schools for 2013-14.  Ohio County Schools had three schools drop down a designation, as Bethlehem Elementary moved from a Success to a Transition school, and Madison Elementary and Wheeling Park High School moved from Transition schools to Support schools.  Another interesting note is that across the state the number of Success schools dropped from 190 to 120, Transition schools from 257 to 180, and Support schools increased from 75 to 140. It seems that as the schools start to “climb” the index targets to obtain the 2020 goal of 75 percent proficiency, schools will have to demonstrate strong student improvement, or their designations and/or ratings will continue to decline.

For more information about your community school, you should check out the information on the WV Department of Education’s website here. I also encourage you to talk to your local teacher or principal to learn what more is behind these rankings, as the system handed down from Charleston is so confusing that even members of the Board of Education struggle to explain it fully and clearly. And don’t get too comfortable with these school rankings from the WVDE because in 2014-15 the WVDE is totally revamping how schools receive their rankings after only two years of the current system! In place of labels like “Success” and “Transition,”West Virginia schools will receive letter grades, ranging from A to F. Because the WVDE has not announced exactly how it will calculate these new grades, it is unclear at this point how the old Index Score and labels like “success” or “transition” will correlate directly to the letter grades of, say, an “A” or a “B.” No matter how the letter grades are determined, let’s hope the process and data continue to be fully and readily available to parents and are easily understandable as well.