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State school board halts AF grading for entire schools  October 18, 2020 – 04:13 am

CHRIS DORST | Gazette-Mail file photo State School Superintendent Michael Martirano (right) and sc

The West Virginia Board of Education decided, in a voice vote with no nays heard Wednesday, to not label entire schools with A-F grades next school year.

The move followed a backlash from teachers unions and other groups to the state’s first public release in November of grades from that overwhelmingly standardized-test-based labeling system.

“That’s got to go. A-F is gone, ” Gov. Jim Justice had said Feb. 8 in his first State of the State address. He had received the major public school employee unions’ endorsements during his campaign.

On Wednesday, the Justice-appointee-dominated state school board approved a policy waiver that stops the A-F grades from being released next fall.

“Well, it’s about time, ” Mickey Blackwell, executive director of the West Virginia Association of Elementary and Middle School Principals, said after the vote.

“Principals throughout the state have spoken on this issue continuously since it was proposed. We found that it was often inaccurate, and we have made our feelings known, ” Blackwell said. “We are very pleased today to have a responsive board that is willing to listen to the practitioners and the people who are doing the work at the school level.”

He said the A-F system “was too complicated.”

Based on multiple measures, schools were assigned scores on a 1, 200-point scale for elementary and middle schools and a 1, 500-point scale for high schools. A modified bell curve then was used to determine how many schools would start off with As, Bs, Cs, Ds and Fs based on the total distribution of schools’ grades on those point scales and how individual schools’ grades compared to the total distribution.

Blackwell criticized the high percentage of the A-F grades that was based on year-end standardized testing.

Since Justice took office in January, three officers on the previous board resigned and the governor appointed one of the board members to a new position, thus freeing up another seat for him to fill.

Justice has appointed four new members with voting power to the board, which has a maximum of nine voting members and still has two voting vacancies he can fill.

Three of Justice’s appointees — Miller Hall, Chuck Hatfield and Barbara Whitecotton — are longtime county school system administrators. Early last month, the new board selected A-F opponent Tom Campbell as its new president.

Last month, the new board directed the Department of Education staff to bring the waiver before it on Wednesday. According to department chief accountability officer Michele Blatt, the waiver stops A-F grades from being released based on this school year’s data.

Although the idea had been discussed for years, the A-F grades were first unveiled this past November. They were based on last school year’s data, including growth in standardized test scores from the 2014-15 school year to last school year.

Blatt said that A-F grades based on this school year’s data — including growth in standardized test scores from last school year to this one — would have been released in the fall if the waiver hadn’t been approved.

Most of the A-F grades are based just on math and English standardized testing — although they take into account some other measures, such as graduation rates in high schools.

The A-F grades are part of West Virginia’s “accountability system.” Blatt said that if A-F is permanently abandoned in the future, as is expected, the federal government will require the state to have a new accountability system in place for next school year.

She said the federal government requires neither “summative” labels for schools — like A-F or the “success” and “priority” labels the pre-A-F state accountability system used to assign — nor growth in standardized test scores to be part of the accountability system. She said last month that the summative-label requirement is part of regulations the Trump administration has put on hold and probably will be eliminated completely.

She said standardized test proficiency rates are the only required part of the accountability system.

The board has directed state schools Superintendent Michael Martirano to start developing a new accountability system.

Blatt said Wednesday that the state education department will have to submit its Every Student Succeeds Act plan to the federal education department Sept. 18 for its approval. The Every Student Succeeds Act is the bipartisan federal legislation regulating K-12 education that then-President Barack Obama signed into law in December 2015.

“We’re looking at bringing back the stakeholders, ” Blatt said of the process to develop a new school accountability system. “We’ll bring back together principals, teachers, legislative representatives, our union reps, our parent organizations.”

She said those interested in being stakeholders for developing the new accountability system can go to the education department’s website at and learn how to become involved. She said the process likely will start with an “educational working group, ” developing something that will be shared with a broader group.


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