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Annual report: 38 percent of W.Va. schools are missing mark on student attendance

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia’s schools have a major problem with absenteeism.

More than 38 percent of schools in West Virginia did not meet a standard for student attendance, according to the annual Balanced Scorecard that was released Thursday.

That means the schools had at least 20 percent of their student population with chronic absences.

That, in turn, was calculated as students missing at least 10 percent of the time they were enrolled. Because the standard for the school year in West Virginia is 180 days, state education officials sometimes shortened their description to talk about students who missed 18 or more days of school.

Any way you describe the problem, said state schools Superintendent Steve Paine, West Virginia schools are missing the mark.

“We have more schools this year than last year, who have students who missed 18 or more days of school. That’s unfathomable. It’s not acceptable, and I’m really upset about it,” Paine said.

The percentage of schools considered to have chronically absent students in 2017-18 was 30.5 percent.

The absence rate also concerned state school board members and education officials who discussed the numbers as they were unveiled at a meeting.

“This is, to all of us, a huge concern that that number increased when we were really trying to hone in on how to get our students to school,” said Deputy Superintendent Michele Blatt, who presented the information to state board members.

State board members asked Blatt what can be done to improve. She emphasized the need for someone at the local school to reach out personally to students who keep missing.

“I think to make an impact, we’ve got to have people in those schools when that child is not in school they call them back and check,” she said. “Did they not have a way? Did someone not wake them up?”

The absence numbers get worse as students get older.

At the elementary level, 16 percent of students are reported as chronically absent.

At middle school, it’s 20 percent.

By high school, 24 percent.

Paine said the response needs to come at the local level. He said state officials have heard loud and clear that local school systems need more flexibility. But he said that also comes with responsibility.

“We have not held local school boards accountable for results,” Paine said. “If they want more flexibility, they need to step up and accept responsibility.”

Regular attendance could improve student performance in many other areas, Paine said.

“Just think what could have happened if we could get those kids in school and reach those kids,” he said.

This is the second year for Balanced Scorecard, which replaced a short-lived A through F school assessment system.

“I think there was a bit of a misnomer that Balanced Scorecard was going to be a lot easier,” Paine said.

State officials underscored that there was some improvement year over year.

For example, 32 West Virginia school districts improved their English/language arts performance.

And 34 West Virginia school districts improved their math performance.

But the bottom line was still not good.

If you count the number of schools that don’t meet the standard and then divide by the total number of schools, you find that 86 percent of West Virginia high schools don’t meet the standard for math. Sixteen percent partially meet the standard. And no high school in West Virginia fully meets or exceeds the math standard.

It’s somewhat better for English and language arts.

For that category, 14 percent of high schools do not meet the standard, 78 percent of high schools partially meet the standard and 9 percent meet the standard. No high school in West Virginia exceeds the standard for English/language arts.

Paine noted that the standards are not easy to obtain.

“I would hope it would be understood that we’ve set some pretty rigorous standards with this accountability system,” he said.

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