Let the chips fall where they may

An editorial from The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register 

WHEELING, W.Va. — Take a look at the chart on page five of this section of the paper. Have you ever seen that level of detail on evaluations of public schools in West Virginia?

Chances are that you have not. That is one reason why the state’s new A-F grading system for public schools is so important.

Many educators are unhappy with the new system. They argue it gives the public an inaccurate, often overly bad, impression of how well schools are doing.

They have a point. About 83 percent of the evaluation formula rests on scores students achieved in the last round of state standardized testing. That much weight given to any single factor is not good.

Many educators do not like the examination, the General Summative Assessment. The test itself is flawed, and so is the idea of judging students’ knowledge and skills through their performance during just a few hours of the year, they say.

To an extent, they are right. The GSA needs to be improved. It needs to be augmented by other evidence on how much children are learning.

But if you are a parent, taxpayer or anyone else who understands education is critical to West Virginia’s future, you should be delighted with the new A-F system.

Look again at the chart. It uses vital aspects of education to measure schools. They range from high school graduation rates to how well “at-risk” students are doing in mathematics and English.

Stressing those factors and bringing the public’s attention to them is a major step forward.

So is informing Mountain State residents that our individual schools often need to grow in how they deal with fundamental tasks. Some schools we may have been led to believe are top-notch are just average. Others are not doing the job at all. Because of the evaluation’s detail, we see where improvement is needed.

Much of the A-F system needs to be reformed. Abandoning the bell curve formula needs to be at the top of that list. Either a school is doing well or it is not. The bell curve arbitrarily determines a certain percentage of schools will get A’s, a set portion will get F’s, and most will be C’s.

Still, the idea — an objective, fact-based evaluation of schools, letting the chips fall where they may — is just what our state needs to focus on education reform.

See more from The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register. 

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