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WV Department of Education eyes rise in minority report number

By RYAN QUINN

Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia Department of Education wants to increase the number of students a school must have in a specific minority group, such as special education students or black students, from 10 to 20 before the school must report the overall performance of that subgroup in several areas.

Those areas that would have to be reported to the state and federal governments are the five broad measures in the department’s existing proposal for a new school accountability system. Those proposed measures include the percentage of students deemed “proficient” on math and English language arts annual standardized tests, the percentage of students with no out-of-school suspensions and high school graduation rates.

During a public meeting last month on the accountability plan, which includes the proposal to increase the threshold number to 20, state schools Superintendent Steve Paine said he’s not opposed to lowering the 20-student proposal.

Christy Black, advocacy specialist for the West Virginia Developmental Disabilities Council and a parent of a student with a disability, said during that meeting at Kanawha County’s Riverside High School that she was disappointed in the proposal to increase the threshold.

“The basis of ESSA is to require equal opportunity for all students,” Black said, speaking of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, which requires states to have accountability plans.

“So I worry about students with disabilities not being in that subgroup,” Black said, “Unfortunately, a lot of times, students with disabilities are the ones who are scoring lower.”

Michele Blatt, the department’s chief accountability officer, said that, before last school year, a school had to have 50 students in a minority before the extra reporting requirements for that subgroup kicked in.

“Even at 20, [for] special education and low-SES [socioeconomic status] students, almost every school still will meet that threshold for those two subgroups,” Blatt said.

When contacted late Monday afternoon, Blatt was heading to the Northern Panhandle for a meeting on the accountability plan. During her trip, she said she didn’t know how many schools no longer would be required to report subgroup performance for black students if the threshold were raised to 20.

She said the performance for subgroups that meet or exceed whatever threshold number is set will be reported on school scorecards.

Department Communications Director Kristin Anderson said Monday the proposal is still 20 students. She said the department won’t make changes to the accountability plan until it’s done with all public meetings on the issue.

The final three meetings are set for: 5:30 p.m. Thursday at East Fairmont High, 1993 Airport Road, Fairmont; 5:30 p.m. July 26 at Cabell Midland High, 2300 U.S. 60, Ona; and 5:30 p.m. July 27 at Eastern Greenbrier Middle, 403 Knight Drive, Ronceverte.

Anderson said the department is considering making changes based on the input during these sessions before publishing the accountability plan for 30 days to solicit written public comments. Blatt said she expects this 30-day period to begin in the first week of August.

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