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Bill aligns WV private, public school test requirements


Charleston Gazette-Mail

In a voice vote with no nays heard Monday, West Virginia’s House Education Committee passed to the full House a bill that would reduce standardized testing requirements for most private schools in the near term but also would, in the future, more closely align testing requirements in those schools to what’s required in public schools.

Existing law requires all schools, under Exemption (k) of state code — Department of Education spokeswoman Kristin Anderson said that comprises all nonpublic schools except Catholic schools — to annually administer standardized tests “to every child enrolled therein between the ages of seven and sixteen years.” The law further says these tests must be “in the subjects of English, grammar, reading, social studies, science and mathematics.”

Anderson said West Virginia has 134 Exemption (k) schools and 27 Catholic, or Exemption (b), schools.

House Bill 2651, which is scheduled for a first reading before the full House today, would change the nonpublic school requirements to require standardized testing only of “students at the same grade levels as those required in the public schools of the state” and to the subjects only “required in the public schools of the state for administration of the state-wide summative assessment.”

Also, in place of the existing law’s requirement for private schools to administer such tests to “every child enrolled” in the specified range, HB 2651 drops the participation rate to at least 90 percent of students “for a composite score to be considered valid.” HB 2651 maintains the existing law’s possible penalties for test results that are too low.

For its A-F grading system for entire schools, which Gov. Jim Justice and many others oppose and which it might now abandon, the state Board of Education required public schools to give at least 90 percent of their students the end-of-year standardized tests, lest they receive an F.

Delegate Ralph Rodighiero, D-Logan, asked if the purpose of lowering the requirement for private schools to 90 percent was “to give leeway for the ones that don’t test so well.” Committee senior policy analyst David Mohr replied that the change is intended to make the requirement the same between public and private schools.

Before the 2014-15 school year, the state board required public schools to administer annual standardized tests in English language arts, math, science and social studies in grades three through 11.

But over the past few years — amid allegations of overtesting and backlash to the state’s Smarter Balanced standardized tests for English and math, which the board first administered statewide in 2014-15 and which are aligned with the national Common Core English and math standards blueprint — the board has eliminated all social studies standardized testing, reduced science standardized testing to only three grade levels and, earlier this month, voted to end math and English standardized testing in ninth and 10th grades.

But those moves affected only public schools. As of this spring, public schools will have standardized testing only in the federally required minimum number of grade levels and subjects.

But if HB 2651 — of which House Education Committee Chairman Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, is the lead sponsor — passes in its current form and ties what grade levels and subjects private schools must have standardized testing in to the public school grade levels and subjects with standardized testing, the state school board’s future votes on standardized testing would impact these private schools.

The introduced version of HB 2651 would have increased a certain private school testing requirement by adding 17-year-olds to the ages required to have annual standardized testing.

But that language was removed during Monday’s committee meeting through an amendment proposed by committee Vice Chairman Joe Statler, R-Monongalia. That amendment also added all the aforementioned language regarding basing required private school standardized testing on public school requirements.

“It just clearly aligns it the same,” Statler said of the amended bill. “Whatever public school is, that’s what’s required in the private and parochial schools.”

A provision of the bill that was in the introduced version and survived into the amended iteration would replace the section of existing law saying that private schools must administer either “the comprehensive test of basic skills, the California achievement test, the Stanford achievement test or the Iowa tests of basic skills” with a generic requirement that they administer “a nationally normed standardized achievement test.”

Also surviving into the amended version of the bill is a requirement that “the selected test shall be published or normed not more than ten years from the date of administration.”

Anderson stated in an email that a nationally normed standardized achievement test reports “whether test takers performed better or worse than a hypothetical average student, which is determined by comparing scores against the performance results of a statistically selected group of test takers, typically of the same age or grade level, who have already taken the exam.”

The Center for Public Education, an initiative of the National School Boards Association, says norm-referenced tests grade students on the bell curve, or normal distribution, meaning “that they do not compare the students’ achievement to standards for what they should know and be able to do — they only compare students to other students who are assumed to be in the same norm group.”

Mohr said norm-referenced tests assign students a percentile ranking. He told committee members that the primary intent of the introduced version of the bill is “to take four named tests that are used as options for private, parochial and church schools out of the [state] code and to replace that with a general term that says it has to be a norm-referenced standardized test that’s been normed or published within 10 years of administration so it is more flexible for those schools as [tests] come and go off the market.”

But the existing law’s statement that private schools can use the noncapitalized “comprehensive test of basic skills” to meet the testing requirements might indicate that a generic testing option is already allowed. At least at one time, McGraw-Hill produced a test used in West Virginia called the — capitalized — Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills, but Anderson said Tuesday that language in the bill “refers to a generic comprehensive test and is not referring to a specific test.”

Espinosa said the education department recommended the bill. Anderson said department officials believe even the current version of the bill is appropriate, because existing law “is out of date and references assessments that are no longer utilized.”

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