The latest standardized test results show that the vast majority of West Virginia high school students who are about to graduate are considered not proficient in math or science. Just 21 percent of 11th graders are proficient in math and only 27 percent are proficient in science.
Those are just two of the data points from the standardized testing for the 2021-2022 school year that paint a grim picture of student achievement in West Virginia. “These are not good,” said state School Board President Paul Hardesty. “They’re just not good.”
No, they are not. Here are more of the results compiled from testing of students in the third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth and eleventh grades:
–The best results were in reading, where 42 percent graded out as proficient. That number is up slightly from the previous school year (40 percent), which was upended by the pandemic. However, the 42 percent proficiency is still below the rate for the five school years prior to the pandemic.
–Only 28 percent tested proficient in science, the same as during the pandemic and ten percentage points lower than the 2017-2018 academic year.
–The math proficiency score rose five percentage points from an historic low of 28 during the pandemic. However, the results show math scores were their highest among third graders—46 percent proficiency—and then they steadily decline to 21 percent proficiency for 11th graders.
Standardized tests are controversial. Critics say not all students are good at taking tests and that the outcomes offer no meaningful data on progress. They also argue the results are poorer if teachers do not teach to the test. Others say the tests are racist, classist and sexist.
But there are also plenty of proponents who believe the tests are an objective measurement of achievement that provides important metrics for educators to use to determine strengths and weakness of their students. Instructional focus can be adjusted accordingly. As the saying goes, what gets measured gets done.
The headwinds for providing a quality school system in West Virginia are well documented—teacher and staff shortages, consistent truancy, students with mental health issues and behavioral problems, poverty, no parental involvement, lack of freedom for educators to do their jobs. It is no wonder the test scores are under water.
However, none of these circumstances relieve the state from carrying out its constitutional obligation to provide “a thorough and efficient system of free schools.”
William Crawford said, “Being a student is easy. Learning requires actual work.” Education is work, certainly for the teachers and staff, but also for the students. The children must show up and do their part.
These test scores should not serve as reasons to toss barbs at teachers. Their job is hard enough without armchair educators piling on. But also, the results cannot be dismissed by casual criticisms of standardized testing.
The data have been too consistent for too long, and therefore must be considered as important indicators of where our public education system is failing.