CHARLESTON, W.Va. — With results of the West Virginia Balanced Scorecard in hand, schools throughout the Mountain State are evaluating their strengths and weaknesses to determine the best ways to educate the state’s children.
“Their districts have had this data embargoed for the past week, and they’ve been pouring through the data and beginning to work with those principals already to say, ‘This is the data that we need to work at. We need to come up with our improvement plans,'” said Melanie Purkey, senior administrator in the state Department of Education’s Office of Quality Assurances.
In fact, the individual districts were the ones to request an assessment such as the Balanced Scorecard because of the consistent language that it uses in ratings, both for students and for individual schools.
“So we listened to them, and we used the exact same terminology,” Purkey said. “The scales obviously are different because of the way you look at an individual student’s test scores versus when you’re looking at aggregate scores on all of these different measures, but we did use the same levels of performance and the terminology.”
Schools that aren’t meeting the standard in the examined categories, Purkey said, will receive assistance, first from their individual districts.
“The Department of Education will also be working with those districts to find out ‘What are the resources that you need to put your plans in place,'” she said. “There are federal dollars that come through ESSA (the Every Student Succeeds Act) that will be targeted at those schools to be able to provide the funding they need for professional development or the funding that they need for extra resources and materials and so forth.”
According to the test results, only about 37 percent of West Virginia’s students are “proficient” in mathematics and 45 percent in English.
However, not all of the state’s schools are far behind the mark.
In Harrison County, Simpson Elementary School is reported as meeting the standard in English/Language Arts and attendance, while student behavior exceeds the standard.
“Our strengths are absolutely in English/Language Arts,” Principal Jill Steele said. “If you’re just looking at academics, that would it be it, and improvements are needed in math, which is really consistent with the rest of the county and even the state.”
Like many schools throughout the state though, mathematics only “partially” meets the standard, Steele said.
While many schools are focused on how to raise those indicators, Steele said Simpson’s goals are a little more targeted.
“Fostering and nurturing each individual child into their own individual progress because everybody progresses at a little different rate,” she said. “We’re just looking for individual growth, and to measure individual growth is sometimes a little bit tricky because one assessment really doesn’t always show the total picture.”
But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t see value in the Balanced Scorecard results.
“We’re really more interested in the total picture, but that does give us a good idea of where they are academically in those core subject areas,” Steele added.
An important fact to remember, Purkey said, that this data is provided by a system that is new and thus is baseline data.
“We believe that this Balanced Scorecard provides multiple measures for folks to look at and see how their school is doing, but we also tried to select measures that are research connected to student achievement,” she said. “So if there’s a measure on the scorecard, there’s research to backup how that particular measure does have an impact on student achievement.”
It was no secret to the Department of Education that math performance was significantly lagging throughout the state. However, educators have been working to help students excel in those courses.
“Math was up for new instructional materials adoption last year, so counties were very particular about the materials and the programs that they’ve adopted for math,” Purkey said. “They provided teachers significant training in that area, and a large number of our schools have a check mark on their math performance indicator. That means while they may still be in that low performing category, when you give them an annual target to climb up to the improvement that we want to see, they are meeting that annual target.”
In fact, Purkey said the department introduced a “Math for Life” plan “to work on improving the ability and availability of certified math teachers, working on new ways of looking at the certification process, and ways to make sure that our teachers that are in front of students teaching math have the full certification for those courses they’re teaching.”
What Purkey, Paine and other educators were less prepared for, however, were the low attendance numbers that this assessment showed.
“When we look at the attendance rate, we have many, many excused absences that are in state code that we delete from the calculation when we do attendance rate,” Purkey said. “With this, we are really looking at the connection between student achievement and attendance, so a student needs to be at school to have high achievement. We looked at the students that were actually present in school 90 percent of the time, and that does not look as promising as an attendance rate looks.”
Purkey said that’s where she believes parents can step in and be a help, as she feels families have felt that if an absence is excused it’s not harmful to their child’s education.
“But really, when that student is missing out on being in class when the material is covered, they’re missing out on the opportunity to do the homework associated with that, particularly at the high school level. If they don’t get that homework done, it just tends to snowball,” she said.
Attending 90 percent of the school days of an academic year allows up to 18 absences, Purkey said.
“If your student is missing more than 18 days of school, it’s very difficult to make up with the work, so then the failure begins,” she said. “You keep adding zeros into the grade book and they have not been there to cover the material, so when you take some of the assessment at the end of the year, you have not grasped the skill or knowledge to pass that part of the test.”
Overall, Purkey said she’s optimistic that these figures will continue to get better as the results of future Balanced Scorecards are collected.
“I do believe that districts, county school systems, their school administrators and teachers are going to look at this data, they’re going to detail pick it apart and figure out where they need to make these improvements,” she said. “We expect to see those progress measures next year to show real progress, we expect to see schools with checks, and we expect to see schools improving in these areas.”