Results from the National Assessment for Education Progress (NAEP) testing show a pattern in West Virginia, and it’s not a good one.

The biennial exam, known as the Nation’s Report Card, shows that West Virginia students are below the national average in math and reading in all four testing areas and even lost ground in three of the four.

For example, the national average 4th grade reading score is 240 out of a possible 500.  West Virginia’s score was 231.  West Virginia 8th graders scored 256 out of 500 in reading, but the national average was 262.

But more disturbing is that West Virginia is losing ground.

The 4th grade math results were five points below the 2017 score, while 4th grade reading scores were four points lower than two years ago. Eighth grade reading scores were three points below the 2017 scores.  Only 8th grade math scored slightly better than two years ago.

West Virginia, Kansas, New Hampshire, Vermont and Wyoming were the only states where test scores declined in three of the four areas.

Nationally, the NAEP scores have been stagnant or declining. As the Wall Street Journal reported, “American students continued a pattern of failing to make notable gains… with result scores dropping in nearly all categories and on par with those from a decade ago.”

Peggy Carr, associate commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, which administers the test, said the results were especially gloomy for certain students.  “Compared to a decade ago, we see that lower achieving students made score declines in all of the assessments, while higher achieving students made score gains.”

State School Superintendent Steve Paine acknowledged that West Virginia scores are poor, but during an interview on Talkline he was quick to point out what he believes are mitigating circumstances.

He said West Virginia public schools have a higher percentage of special needs students than other states.  Therefore, students with disabilities make up a higher percentage of those taking the test.

West Virginia also has a critical shortage of math and special education teachers.  Our population is poorer than most states and West Virginia is also struggling with an opioid crisis that has disrupted home life, contributed to higher absentee rates and pushed more children into foster care.

Paine said West Virginia also has a history of changing curricula and goals, especially in math. “I wish I had a nickel for every time somebody said, ‘Could you just leave us alone… Keep our standards where they are… and don’t change for about five or six years so we know how to play by the rules.’”

These results, as well as the Balanced Scorecard annual state assessment results released earlier this year, show West Virginia needs better outcomes, and Paine is willing to throw down the gauntlet.

“The results will get better and I will just about guarantee we will see increases in two years,” he said.  “We are doing all the right things.”

Providing a thorough and efficient education to all students in West Virginia is an immense challenge, and one that seems to get more difficult each year.  However, given the importance of a good education to social and economic health, West Virginia has no choice but to work toward, and expect, better outcomes.

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