(09/28/2010)
David Walker (D-Clay)
House of Delegates
WV Legislature-District 33

I am running a little late with my comments this month. I have been traveling somewhat throughout the area and haven't had the downtime I've needed to keep you informed but I've bit the bullet and have settled in.

During my travels, I've been asked a variety of questions regarding changes in the new federal health care bill, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010. While it is a long-term plan extending to 2014, I've put down the immediate changes.

Beginning on or after September 23, 2010, pre-existing condition coverage exclusions for children will no longer exist, patients' choice of doctors will be protected and young adults can remain on family policies until they are 26-years-old.

The plan also prohibits insurers from imposing lifetime limits on benefits, prevents insurers from arbitrarily taking away coverage and requires coverage of prevention and wellness benefits in all new plans which will be exempt from deductibles and cost-sharing.

During our September meetings from the 13th through the 15th, we addressed a variety of issues.

In 1998, House Bill 4306 was passed which established an Office of Education Performance Audits (OEPA) which operates independently of the State Board of Education (BOE). It reviews school systems to measure the quality of education provided to our children. Essentially, the independent audits are to identify deficiencies and to hold schools accountable for school system performance.

If an OEPA independent school audit indicates a school district experiences problems in curriculum and instruction, facilities, finance, leadership and compliance with the state BOE, then a intervention takes place until circumstances leading to the take over are corrected. While some schools have been taken over by the State Board, most of the criticisms are corrected by a school immediately. The OEPA director noted the interventions have shown promise and schools are working to improve their practices. Facilities are improving, graduation rates are rising and morale is improving to some degree.

Also, we addressed the large amount of required testing in our public schools.

It is my understanding that the school system has 19 Assessments (tests), 10 of which are required by the state board, with two being mandated by the federal government. Nine others are recommended. These tests are aimed at a variety of school grade levels from pre-kindergarten to the 12th grade.

I've heard many times that teachers are weighed down with the testing system and feel as if they are teaching toward the tests.

Grades 3-11 are required to participate in WESTEST 2, which is the state's summative assessment that measures student performance in the content areas of math, reading/language arts, science and social studies.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is given to grades 4, 8, and 12 and fulfills federal requirements allowing the state to qualify for federal funds.

For 12th graders and targeted toward students in career/technical concentrations - ACT Work Keys Assessment addresses areas of applied math, reading for information, locating information and technical concentration. This Assessment also is required and fulfills the Federal Carl Perkins Act.

However, education committee members are concerned that three of the most valuable tests are being left out of the cycle.

Debate ensued regarding required assessments versus recommended assessments. The recommended ACT EXPLORE, which measures 8th graders' general educational development and complex, critical thinking skills covering English, math, reading and science, is recommended, not required. Also recommended, but not required, is the ACT PLAN, which measures 10th graders' knowledge and complex critical thinking skills acquired in the early years of high school. The covers areas of English, math, reading and science.

Another plan, the PSAT, a preliminary SAT containing the same type of questions which measures student performance in three areas: critical reading, writing and mathematics, was not even mentioned in the assessment package provided by the state superintendent. Since the test is a good predictor of advanced placements in high school, some committee members believed it should be reconsidered as an Assessment.

The latter, not recommended, tests were perceived to be significant teaching tools by members of the subcommittee who have served in education as professionals. Since all the Assessments are not required by state law, we are seeking answers as to how the tests are selected by the state board. We also want to know how much it costs to give the tests, particularly the federally required tests. Maybe we should add the three and get rid of some others.

If you should have any questions or comments regarding any issues or bills before the Legislature, please feel free to contact me. To write me, my address is Delegate David Walker, State Capitol, Building 1, Room 230-E, Charleston, WV 25305 or call me at (304) 340-3135. I encourage all my constituents to remain active and become part of the legislative process.


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