(05/21/2002)
From The Charleston Daily Mail

Reforms Coming In Fall

11 low-performing schools see effects of Bush bill soon

Sam Tranum
Daily Mail Capitol reporter

Monday May 20, 2002
Some West Virginian parents will see the first effects of President Bush's education reform bill as soon as this fall.

A committee of state legislators met Sunday to talk about the changes the bill will require the state to make in its public education system in the short-term and the changes that are further out on the horizon.

The Bush bill requires states to set up a new system for evaluating students, teachers and schools.

Presenting the outline of the bill's effects Sunday, Assistant Superintendent Pam Cain said it would require the state to fundamentally change the way it does public education.

The first major change -- based on new school assessment rules -- will be felt when students head for classes in the fall.

Eleven schools in the state have been tagged, because of their past performance, as needing to improve, Cain told lawmakers.

Parents of students who go to those schools will have the option of sending their kids to schools that haven't been marked as needing improvement. The county will have to bus the students to the school of their choice.

If the 11 schools don't improve after another year, the county will have to provide not only school choice but supplemental services like tutoring and after school programs to make sure students still get a good education.

Under the Bush bill, if the years keep rolling by without improvement the state will eventually have to take over the school and restructure, Cain said.

Changes are also coming in what the state requires of its teachers.

Under the Bush bill, all teachers must be "highly qualified." That means they need to have passed a state certification exam, have a college degree and pass certain tests, Cain said.

Cain said 97 percent to 98 percent of West Virginia's teachers meet those qualifications. The challenge is keeping the teachers in state, she said.

House Education Chairman Jerry Mezzatesta, D-Hampshire, said that would take some creativity. He suggested considering a pay increase.

The Legislature approved a pay raise during its regular session this year that averaged out to about $2,000 per teacher.

The Bush bill will also mean changes for students. It will require a new testing system for evaluating their skills.

West Virginia was already working on such a system, Cain said. That puts it ahead of other states, which now need to develop new testing systems.

The level of annual improvement in test scores required by the Bush bill will be difficult to meet, said Deputy State Superintendent Bill Luff.

"Many states, most states, have looked at their achievement and said that's going to be difficult, it's almost impossible," Luff said.


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