WV school board moves forward with A-F grading policy, OKs school closure

By Ryan Quinn, Staff Writer GAZETTE MAIL

The West Virginia Board of Education put five policies out for comment Wednesday, including one that would move forward with giving A through F grades to entire schools and counties but — unlike the state's past accountability system — would base ratings on more than just standardized tests and graduation rates.

Michele Blatt, the state Department of Education's chief accountability officer, said the proposed Policy 2320 would add what's called "multiple measures" to the state's A-F school and county grading system. The federal Every Student Succeeds Act that President Obama signed into law in December allows states to use such "multiple measures" in their accountability systems.

If the policy passes, Blatt said A-F grading would consider — in addition to standardized test scores and graduation rates, data used in the state's past system that gave schools labels like "success" and "priority" — attendance, students at risk of dropping out, third graders reading below grade level, eighth graders performing math below grade level and career- and college-readiness indicators. She said the latter include completions of Advanced Placement courses that can earn students college credit.

"I think we are proposing a set of metrics that get to things that we care the most about," Blatt said.

Education officials said they plan to release A-F grades by late this fall. The state didn't give schools and counties labels or grades this school year because officials said the grades needed to take into account two consecutive years of the state's Smarter Balanced statewide standardized tests, which were first given last school year.

Education department General Counsel Heather Hutchens said another proposed policy, 4110, would no longer allow excused absences to be excluded from attendance rate calculations, even absences for students who have doctor's notes. Some absences would still be allowed not to count against the rate, like absences for approved school trips.

Joey Wiseman, the state education department's executive director of middle and secondary learning, said yet another proposed policy, 2520.4, wouldn't make major changes to K-12 social studies education standards, but it would add standards for three high school courses the state school board approved through their final vote Wednesday on Policy 2510.

One is U.S. history-comprehensive, which covers all of U.S. history in one course and which students can take to meet graduation requirements instead of Advanced Placement U.S. history or U.S. studies, which covers American history up to World War I. The other two courses that would get statewide standards are sociology and psychology.

The board also gave final approval to a revised Policy 2510 that, among many other modifications that'll take effect next school year, mandates that all high schools offer optional computer science classes.

The revised policy will also alter science and social studies high school course requirements, including by providing students more freedom to take other social studies classes in lieu of contemporary studies, a course focusing on American history from World War I to the present day.

And unlike their decisions on the policies, state school board members were divided in a vote Wednesday to close Greenwood Elementary in Morgan County, which local superintendent David Banks said only has 48 students. Brad Michael said he and other Greenwood community members had filed an appeal to stop the closure, citing problems with county's execution of the normal process to close schools.

State board President Mike Green called a short break in the meeting after hearing debate on the matter. State board members then re-entered the room and Green and fellow members Tina Combs, Lloyd Jackson, Scott Rotruck and Jim Wilson voted for the closure, and Tom Campbell, Beverly Kingery and Bill White voted against. Gayle Manchin was absent.

Virginia Harris, secretary to board, said the policies the board has proposed should be posted online for comment at wvde.state.wv.us/policies either Thursday or Friday. She said the 30-day public comment period will end in mid-May.

Also Wednesday, the board OK'd allowing school nurses in Cabell County to give naloxone to students and adults. Naloxone, often known by the trade name Narcan, is used to resuscitate people suffering from overdoses on opiates like prescription pills and heroin.

In November, the board approved a similar allowance for Brooke County's two middle schools and one high school to stock naloxone. Education officials said Wednesday they're planning to seek more medical officials' advice before moving forward with a previously discussed statewide allowance for the drug.

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