Extra Credit

State superintendent starts new video series

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State Superintendent Michael Martirano and school board President Gayle Manchin, discuss education topics in a new video series about his vision plan, “One Voice, One Focus: All Students Achieving.”

State Superintendent Michael Martirano released a video Tuesday in what he says will be the first in a series of talks about his goals for West Virginia’s education system.

Martirano said the series, which is based on his vision plan “One Voice, One Focus: All Students Achieving,” will be a way for the Department of Education to communicate with educators, parents, students and lawmakers about the “good things that are going on in our state.” Martirano intends to interview state education leaders in each segment.

The video, featuring an armchair discussion with Board of Education President Gayle Manchin, clocks in at nearly 20 minutes and covers topics like the board’s focus on student achievement, the implementation of Next Generation Content Standards and parental involvement in education.

Martirano starts the video with a few observations from his first two months in West Virginia. Martirano joined the department in September after directing the St. Mary’s County school district in Maryland for nine years.

“I’ve been very impressed by the board’s focus on improving student achievement,” he said.

While West Virginia currently ranks in the bottom half of nearly every national student achievement metric, slight improvements have been seen in recent years. Martirano, who drastically improved graduation rates in St. Mary’s County, has turned his sights on similar endeavors in West Virginia.

Part of improving student achievement, Martirano says, is the implementation of new education standards that call for “deeper levels” of learning.

Manchin said those standards have raised the bar for West Virginia and can be challenging for students, parents and teachers.

“But that’s what change is,” Manchin said. “It’s going in a different direction.”

That direction is still in its earliest stage. The standards, adopted by the board in 2010, weren’t fully implemented statewide until the start of the fall semester, and new assessments to monitor student progress won’t be used until this spring.

“We think it’s the right direction for the 21st century,” Manchin added.

The state’s top two education officials also discussed remediation efforts in McDowell County, which due to its secluded and rural landscape, doesn’t have the same resources other counties have.

“We have to bring resources to the school and make it the hub of support for families,” Manchin said, later adding that parental involvement in education is vital to improvement.

While Manchin did most of the talking, Martirano focused the discussion on topics found in his vision plan. The plan calls for improved department efficiency and student achievement, among other things. It can be read in full by clicking here.

State embargo delays student test score release

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An embargo halting the release of student standardized test scores will remain in effect until all county data is returned and validated, a Department of Education spokesperson said Thursday.

Westest results, which typically are shared with county boards of education in the summer, must first be verified before their release to the public. The process has taken longer than expected this year and has been the source of much frustration for local school officials.

The department has blamed the months-long delay on new digital testing methods. This was the first year the test was administered solely online, an endeavor that also experienced widespread problems.

“The worst thing we can do is release something and it be wrong,” said Liza Cordeiro, the department’s communications director. She later added the department exercises caution when dealing with student information.

The delay, however, has irritated local school officials.

During a Kanawha County Board of Education meeting Tuesday, board President Robin Rector said the department is to blame, not the counties.

Schools boards use the data to determine which schools need intervention and inform teachers what subjects need more attention.

Cordeiro said school boards should already have their results though.

At the board’s meeting Tuesday, Kanawha County Deputy Superintendent Tom Williams said the embargo could be lifted as early as Thursday. While the moratorium continues, Rector said she would be surprised if the results aren’t issued in time for board members to discuss them at their next curriculum meeting on Dec. 1.

Last year, the test results were released in early September and revealed statewide gains in reading and math proficiency.

Kanawha County also showed improvement. More than 40 percent of county schools were given a “success” ranking, which is the highest designation in the department’s new school accountability system.

The rankings are designed to identify areas where schools may be struggling. A success label is given only when a majority of students meet academic benchmarks and the school meets attendance, graduation and achievement goals.

This is the last year Westest scores will be released by the department. Starting this spring, the state will switch to the Common Core-aligned Smarter Balanced Assessment tests.

Mon County school takes top spot in W.Va. ranking

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University High in Morgantown is the top-ranked high school in West Virginia according to a new ranking by Niche, a K-12 and college review website.

The school, along with No. 2 Morgantown High, gives Monongalia County Schools the top two slots in the state. The school system also earned an overall score of A minus, making it the highest ranked among West Virginia’s 55 counties.

Kanawha, the state’s largest school system, received a C plus despite having two top-10 schools.

Fairmont Senior, Bridgeport and George Washington, high schools in Marion, Harrison and Kanawha counties, round out West Virginia’s top five.

There are 100 schools on Niche’s West Virginia list.

According to Niche’s methodology, the rankings provide a comprehensive assessment of the overall experience at each high school by using government and public data as well as opinion-based survey responses from students, alumni and parents. Each rank is based on the quality of academics, health and safety, culture and diversity, resources and facilities, extracurriculars, sports and overall teacher grades.

A high rank indicates a school is an exceptional academic institution with diverse, high-achieving students who favorably rate their experience.

University High’s 1,200 students favorably ranked their school, saying its Advanced Placement courses and math and science teachers were distinguishing.

Nearly 23,000 traditional, magnet, charter and online schools across the country were analyzed, 15,265 of which received a grade. Out of the 14,431 ranked schools, the top honor was given to High Technology High School in Lincroft, N.J. The entire list can be found by clicking here.

No school from West Virginia made the top 100.

West Virginia’s public schools, as a group, earned the state an overall score of C minus.

State school board leaves audience hanging

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It’s not uncommon for the West Virginia Board of Education to enter an executive session — its members are entitled to discuss personnel matters in private. What’s surprising, though, is how often the board gaffes when they do so.

On Wednesday during a meeting in Mingo County, the board went behind closed doors to discuss hiring a new audits director, but failed to notify Department of Education staff, a teacher union representative and a reporter when the session had ended.

By the time anyone realized what happened, the entire meeting had concluded and the only explanation given was that the board thought everyone left.

Oops.

To make matters worse, the handful of people waiting for the meeting to resume were subjected to listening to an instrumental version of “Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall” by British rock band Coldplay on an endless loop through crackling cafeteria speakers.

“I’ll never be able to listen to Coldplay after this,” one person said.

Board members didn’t do anything controversial during their brief time without media or union oversight, but they did hire Susan O’Brien to head its audits department. The deputy director of educator quality for the New Mexico public education system is a West Virginia native and will be paid $120,000 a year.

Library to collect yard signs after election

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The Kanawha County Public Library announced today that each local branch will collect and recycle campaign yard signs used to promote the library’s funding levy.

Starting Wednesday, “Loving My Library” signs can be dropped off in designated areas at each Kanawha County branch where they will be stored for reuse or be recycled.

Library supporters have distributed thousands of yard signs and brochures around the county to raise awareness for the levy, which will return the system to full funding status should it pass.

Going into today’s election, library officials are “cautiously optimistic” about the levy passing and thankful for the support of patrons through the years.

“We greatly appreciate all of the people in Kanawha County who have supported the library levy by putting signs in their yards and neighborhoods,” said Alan Engelbert, library director.

If the levy passes, annual property taxes in Kanawha County will increase by about $16 dollars for residents with homes and cars with assessed values of $100,000 and $15,000, respectively. Should voters turn down the levy, the library will face a budget shortfall of about $3 million and likely will close several branches.

The levy is on the back of the ballot with a detailed description of what it is funding.

Polls are open until 7:30 p.m.