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Some fear A-F ranking targets high-poverty schools

BECKLEY, W.Va. — The West Virginia Board of Education released the first rankings of a new School Accountability System Wednesday, but concern about the validity of any A-F system began much earlier.

Many teachers and administrators have opposed the system.

One criticism is, because it has a strong emphasis on standarized test scores, schools in high poverty areas are more likely to receive a lower ranking.

West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee said research shows 70 percent of student test performance is based on out-of-school causes like living with chronic stress, hunger and a sense of hopelessness that children who live in financially unstable households often report feeling.
“The school letter grade is a means of narrowly defining schools’ success chiefly based upon student standardized test scores in select subjects,” Lee said. “Our schools have too many variables, too many moving parts, too many different components that make up what happens each day in our public schools.”

For elementary and middle school students, 1,000 out of a possible 1,200 points in West Virginia’s A-F system are earned based on proficiency and improvement in math and English Language Arts scores. For high schoolers, 1,100 out of 1,500 possible points are rooted in the General Summative Assessment.

High schools must have 819 points or more to receive an A, middle schools must score greater than 690 and elementary schools must score 813 to attain the highest grade.

How poverty might affect testing and, subsequently, the A-F accountability score is hard to determine in a state where 74 percent of students in 2015-16, according to Department of Education enrollement data, were classified as low socioeconomic status.

Fourteen of the 15 schools that received an F ranking in West Virginia have 100 percent of student enrollment classified as having a low socioeconomic status.

Riverside High in Kanawha County has 54 percent of students classified as low socioeconomic status, but it is also the only school in the state to receive an F ranking because 90 percent or more of students did not take the standardized test.

Nicholas County’s Mt. Nebo Elementary is the only school in the region to receive an A and has a low socioeconomic status enrollment of 67 percent. Also in Nicholas, Dixie Elementary received an F ranking and has a 100 percent low socioeconomic status.

The county with the most A rankings, Marion County also shows some correlation between poverty and performance. Watson Elementary, with a 100 percent low socioeconomic status, received an F ranking. Fairmont Senior High (45.5 percent of students enrolled are from low socioeconomic backgrounds), East Fairmont High (41 percent), Fairmont Middle (57.5 percent), Pleasant Valley Elementary (36 percent), East Dale Elementary (49.2) and Monongah Middle (65 percent) all received A rankings.

— Email: [email protected]; follow on Twitter @Sarah_E_Plummer

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