Leaders agree action is necessary to improve education proficiency

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia’s leaders agree improvements to the state’s schools are necessary as education proficiency continues to lag.

Paul Hardesty

The discussion about the need for action stems from the state Department of Education’s release of statewide assessment data from the 2021-2022 academic year. While students made academic progress from the prior year — when classes moved online because of the coronavirus pandemic — proficiency rates still lagged behind previous years.

“You can’t put enough lipstick on the pig. They’re terrible. Plain and simple,” state Board of Education President Paul Hardesty said last week on “MetroNews Talkline.”

Hardesty, who took over as board president in July, said no one should believe proficiency rates in the 30s are acceptable.

“I’m going to do my best over the next two years to try to bring some level of improvement,” he said. “Sometimes, we’ve got to start back to the basics. Give these teachers time to teach math, reading, language arts, core basic subjects. We’re not proficient when we get to the third grade, and look at the test data. Look at the way the trends go. When you get to the third grade, if you don’t have that basis, how in the world can you perform higher-level math functions in grades five, eight and 11?”

Hardesty said part of the issue is increased pressure on educators; teachers often face hurdles and responsibilities that take them away from providing engaging lessons.

“Let these teachers teach,” he said. “Don’t turn them into robots and give them a structured, this-is-the-way-you-have-to-do-it model. It don’t work.”

Gov. Jim Justice said the state education system “can do better,” adding during last Thursday’s coronavirus briefing that these problems are not new.

“These numbers are nothing like what we want them to be,” he said.

Fred Albert

Fred Albert, the president of the West Virginia chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, said educators tell him the most recent year of the pandemic has been the worst because of educator and substitute shortages.

“Teachers were expected to cover other classes to disperse students so that their classrooms were overcrowded,” he said. “It was a pretty difficult year.”

The state Department of Education reported 1,196 teacher vacancies in West Virginia’s schools in 2021. Dale Lee, the president of the West Virginia Education Association, told MetroNews last week he expects the number of vacancies to surpass 1,500.

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