|By Bob Weaver|
In West Virginia, not only are "all the women strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average," but the state's schools will soon become exceptional.
The US Chamber of Commerce, an advocate of No Child Left Behind, says its' state-by-state education report card shows that the U.S. education system is failing and putting America's future competitiveness at risk.
They ranked WV 43rd overall, giving it an F for academic achievement.
The Chamber says WV, despite spending among the largest amounts per student in the US, is not truthful about student proficiency, giving it a D.
Now, the WV State Department of Education has an improvement plan.
WV Public Radio reporter Scott Finn calls it "No School Left Behind."
President Bush's "No Child Left Behind" requires schools to measure the progress of students each year, a federal program that has a large amount of opposition.
Reporter Finn reported the decision by state officials, saying they've developed a new system to measure whether a school is succeeding or not.
In WV, under the new system. the number of low-performing schools decreases by 80 percent.
Under the current system, schools use a standardized test to measure their proficiency in reading and math.
If a certain percentage of students meet the standards, and if the school meets attendance or graduation goals, then the school is said to have made Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP.
Under NCLB, every year, a higher percentage of students must meet the standards.
By 2014, 100 percent of students must meet the standards.
In November, the West Virginia Board of Education approved a new way of measuring whether schools are doing a good job.
Finn reported the new system doesn't replace AYP - at least not yet.
Kenna Seal, director of the state Office of Education Performance Audits, in a WVPR interview says "Well, what we've done is come up with a whole lot of different criteria. There's more than just reading and math scores that we think are important."
"So we went ahead and put the other indicators in there, from ACT scores, AP scores, everything that we value in education."
Seal got in hot water recently for saying Lincoln county citizens are "four-wheel ridin', dope-smokin', alcoholic rednecks," describing a lifestyle that impedes student progress.
Lincoln schools have been listed as low-performing.
Seal and State School Superintendent Steve Paine has blamed the Lincoln school board for the low scores, although the school board has not been in charge of the system for seven years since the state department took control.
Under the old standards, 132 WV schools failed to meet state requirements. Under the new system, only 27 schools aren't making the grade - thus Finn's description "No School Left Behind."
Seal said, "So this list brought down that 132 schools that didn't make AYP, it brought that list down to 27. There appears to be more schools that are meeting this one, but ... it's just a different look."
Other measures paint more of a mixed picture of education in West Virginia. Since 2000, the state's reading scores have declined on the National Assessment of Education Progress, the country's only apples-to-apples comparison of test scores between states.
The state's math scores have improved.
Under the state's newest accreditation system, nine schools are listed as low performing.
WORST OF THE WORST: Eight are middle schools: Bland, Braxton, Barboursville, Lumberport, Logan, Peterstown, Ritchie, and Spencer Middle Schools. The other, Terra Alta East Preston School, serves preschool to 8th grade.
Seal says middle schools do more poorly because they are required to test all of their students. The more students are tested, the more chances a school has to fail.
"They (middle schools) test all their kids, so they have more exposure in terms of not making AYP, whereas high schools only test one grade. The elementary schools only test third and fourth grade. All middle schools test all their grades."
Finn says no school likes to be labeled as not making AYP. But that's what has happened to several of the state's highest-performing schools.
John Adams Middle School serves students from Charleston's wealthiest neighborhood, South Hills. But it failed to make AYP last year because its special education students didn't make state standards.
Now, John Adams has received full approval under the state's new accreditation system.
Seal says that is a more accurate picture of the quality of the school. He hopes that these new standards someday will replace AYP.
"Over time, we'll work this thing out, and I think the feds during next reauthorization will maybe give us a little bit of leeway, and maybe help us redefine that AYP, so we can use a little bit of the data we have, and still hold some accountability for that subgroup performance," Seal said.
McDowell County had the most low-performing schools, with 57 percent not receiving full accreditation, followed by Calhoun, Doddridge, Monroe, and Roane counties.
Under the new criteria, their performance will be much better.
Ohio County had the most high-performing schools, with 84 percent of schools rated exemplary or distinguished, followed by Ritchie, Hancock, Putnam, and Tyler counties.
The US Chamber of Commerce did give West Virginia a C in rigor of standards and an A in management of data.