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Opinion: Grading schools, counties helps focus on education

The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington:

Bringing home a bad report card is usually uncomfortable for parent and child.

But in the best situations, those low marks can provide a much needed wake-up call. Maybe a student needs help in some subjects or more disciplined study habits – at least it is clear there is a problem and work needs to be done.

In the same way, communities need to know how their schools and school systems are performing and understand where improvements are needed. We want our children to be ready for successful careers and prepared to compete both nationally and globally.

But getting a gauge on that is not easy, especially in West Virginia, where the state’s generally low student achievement is affected by poverty and other challenging socioeconomic factors. While most residents know students statewide lag behind much of the nation, we are naturally supportive of our local schools and hope they are doing the best they can.

So, how are our local schools really doing? A new grading scale is likely coming in the fall.

The West Virginia Board of Education last week unveiled a reporting policy that would give A to F grades for schools and counties, based on a number of achievement factors and indicators. The new proposal is now up for public comment at

The grading would consider test scores, graduation rates, third-graders reading below grade level, eighth-graders performing math below grade level, career and college-readiness indicators, as well as attendance and students at risk of dropping out.

That broader look is a good idea, because parents and the public – rightly or wrongly – have soured to some extent on national standardized testing. But ultimately, we still need to understand whether an “A” in one of our classrooms reflects the same rigor as an “A” around the state and around the country.

A clearer evaluation of performance, brought right down to the local level, is critical to developing buy-in from students, educators, parents and the community.

That is what it is going to take to improve education, job readiness and opportunity in West Virginia.

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