HCEA official blasts school ‘report card’

NEW CUMBERLAND–The new West Virginia Report Card grading system is a “naive and limited” way to measure individual school quality, a teacher told the Hancock County school board on Monday.

Melanie Donofe, president of the Hancock County Education Association, said the system, which was made public on Nov. 16, relies too much on standardized test results and, as such, does not reflect the fullness of what happens at the local school level.

“In no state that uses the grading system is there any evidence that it leads to sustained school improvement,” she said. “However, many will argue that it has damaged education by having teachers ‘teach to the test,’ and it shows the misplaced priorities and understanding of those who are making decisions about education but have never actually been in a classroom.”

Donofe, a fourth-grade teacher at Weirton Elementary School, said the grading system defines success too narrowly.

“As a classroom teacher, I cannot emphasize just how naive and limited the grading of schools based on the standardized test is,” she said. “Our schools are these complex places where students come each day to learn. And they learn so much more than the math and English measured on those tests on that given day.”

The statewide system assigns a letter grade to each individual school in each county district as a measure of educational quality.

In Hancock County, New Manchester Elementary School received an A, Allison Elementary and Oak Glen Middle School each earned a B, Oak Glen High School received a D, and all three Weirton schools each received a C. The grades are based on each school’s data from 2015, and indicate the school’s level of success in getting students career- or college-ready.

Data used is 83 percent student performance, including scores from the West Virginia General Summative Assessment. The remaining 17 percent of the score is based on non-performance indicators, such as attendance and graduation rates.

The West Virginia Department of Education designed the accountability system to meet a requirement of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama in December 2015.

Donofe’s remarks to the board were drafted by the West Virginia Education Association, which has been critical of the school grading system since it was announced. Although board members did not comment, several indicated that they agreed with Donofe’s comments.

Also Monday, the board:

* Adopted a revised policy governing community use of school facilities. The revision clarifies an existing policy that was not being enforced consistently, Superintendent Kathy Kidder-Wilkerson said.

Additions include the wrestling room ($200) and the IMC at the John D. Rockefeller IV Career Center ($250). The latter is the large multipurpose room that is used for banquets and public meetings. The wrestling room, although previously available to the public, had inadvertently been omitted from the old written policy.

The policy, which was last amended in 2012, does not change any fee amounts. It places the authority for use of the facilities with the building principal and Director of Facilities Mark Dziatkowicz.

Charitable organizations may still use public school facilities without charge but must provide proof of insurance in the amount of at least $1 million and must list the Hancock County Board of Education as the insured party.

* Approved the formation of the GSA Club (Gay Straight Alliance) at Weir High School and the advertising of a faculty sponsor position.

* Approved a strategic plan for the Career Center. The plan is required by the Council on Occupational Education, an Atlanta-based accrediting agency. The Career Center’s adult programs have been accredited by the COE since 2014.

The strategic plan includes five goals, action plans for achieving the goals, and the school’s mission statement, said Career Center Director Dan Enich.

* Learned that Hancock County school buses are driving an extra 108.5 miles a day because of the temporary closing of Pennsylvania Avenue in Weirton. A section of the road was closed on Oct. 17 after the ground underneath gave way.

Repairs are not expected to start until the spring, so buses and other traffic must follow a detour.