By RYAN QUINN
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Senate Education Committee on Thursday passed a version of the governor’s education bill that would now also ban Common Core standards and the current Smarter Balanced standardized tests. It could be amended on the Senate floor today.
Gov. Jim Justice’s bill (House Bill 2711), which already would eliminate the state Office of Education Performance Audits, now raises even more questions about how West Virginia will hold public schools and school systems accountable.
The bill also would eliminate the eight Regional Education Services Agencies (RESAs) and the mandate that public school year calendars have at least 180 separate instructional days.
The state Board of Education has separately indicated it plans to ditch Smarter Balanced but hasn’t moved to choose a replacement. Federal law requires states have standardized testing.
The Senate Education amendment added to the bill would prevent the board from backtracking. Six of the nine board members were appointed by Justice.
Locally elected county school board members can hold schools accountable for student outcomes and other issues if voters insist, but the state Board of Education has in the past intervened in school systems when it determined boards were not doing so.
The Office of Education Performance Audits sends reviewers into schools to assess factors including principals’ leadership, teaching of statewide education standards and ability to keep students safe.
The office staff pick contracted retired school administrators to lead the review teams and current administrators to compose the teams. Administrators cannot review their own county schools.
The office provides reports on school systems to the state school board before state takeovers, and it has reviewed state-controlled school systems during takeover to determine whether they were ready for return to local control.
Sen. Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, noted in Thursday’s committee meeting that Wayne County’s public school system just went through a “major audit.”
The auditing office concluded that Wayne violated state school board finance policies and saw the cost of its locally funded employees increase more than $1.4 million from the 2014-15 fiscal year to last fiscal year.
“I really am not as concerned about the school visits and what OEPA does on the school visits,” Plymale said. “I am concerned that we will not get what we need on the county visits. Can you assure me, the way that this bill is written, that we’ll get the in-depth information and know exactly what’s going on in counties related to that?”
“I think in this time of limited resources, and based on the way the bill is presented, there’s a whole lot that can be done through data collection, predictive analytics, which is the world I’ve just come from,” replied state schools Superintendent Steve Paine, who worked at California-based BrightBytes before returning to be superintendent.
“And using that information to identify those districts that need further support first, and then everyone needs to be held accountable, so there would be accountability measures as well.”
Elimination of the auditing office is expected to save $1.2 million a year.
“To tell you that we have a solution at this point identified is not true. … If the bill passes, we would work with the current OEPA personnel and the state board and with educators to determine a process of, first of all, I would envision support, and then accountability.”
Citing fears of violating the landmark Recht decision, in which former Ohio County Circuit Judge Arthur Recht found the state’s public schools failed to meet a “thorough and efficient” standard demanded by the state Constitution, Plymale said he was concerned about not having an autonomous group reviewing county public school systems “that does not go at the complete behest of the superintendent, no offense.”
“I would think it would be incumbent upon us and the board to set up some kind of a concept within their purview that, in fact, would be separate from my authority, so that we could ensure the intent and spirit of the Recht decision,” Paine said.
Plymale said he then felt comfortable in that.
The auditing office’s website provides public access to audit reports on individual schools and county school system central offices, with self-assessment statements and ratings by the school and an audit team’s assessment statements and ratings.
For instance, in a 2015-16 school year audit, Kanawha County’s Capital High rated itself a 3 — “accomplished,” the second-highest rating on the 1-4 scale — in the “High Expectations for All” category.
Auditors gave the school a 2, “emerging,” in that category, noting students using cellphones “throughout the day during academic time,” others using iPads to play games and others “sleeping in class without redirection by teachers.”
Allen Brock, the auditing office’s manager who has been there since November 2003 and said he’s done audits in every county but Pendleton, said the process used to involve completely unannounced audits, no chance for self-reflection and only audits of schools that data indicated were “low-performing.”
“There were many schools around the state that never received an audit because their performance was good, and there were no red flags,” Brock said.
But in the last two school years, he said the auditing office reviewed every public school and school system central office in the state, and is now set up to re-audit every school, central office and even Regional Education Service Agency office once every four years. Schools now know their audit dates well ahead of time, and other than for some large high schools, on-site school reviews have been one-day affairs.
On the issue of standards and tests, Senate Education’s Thursday amendment says the state Board of Education is “prohibited from implementing the Common Core academic standards” and is prohibited from adopting tests from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. Those are the two federally funded groups that built tests specifically aligned to the Common Core standards.
West Virginia’s current math and English language arts standards are largely the same as Common Core.
Sen. Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, asked the superintendent whether the Common Core ban language concerned him.
“We are fine with that and we are beyond Common Core,” Paine said.
Sarah Stewart, the Department of Education’s director of policy and government relations, previously said that the same Common Core ban language in another Senate bill, which hasn’t moved forward in the House, wouldn’t actually require the state school board to change its current education standards.
The state school board revised its Common Core standards for this school year, and state education officials announced that Common Core had been repealed.
A Center on Standards and Assessment Implementation study found high alignment in all grade levels between West Virginia’s new standards and Smarter Balanced, the test built for Common Core standards.
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