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State embargo delays student test score release

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.

W.Va. students fall behind on college readiness exam

West Virginia high school graduates tested below the national average on ACT’s college readiness exam this year, a new report has found.

The state’s composite score of 20.6 — on a scale of 1 to 36 — has remained the same for the past four years and continues to come short of the national average of 21. Only 21 percent of ACT test takers score higher.

While students outperformed their national peers in English and reading subtests with scores of 20.4 and 21.4, they fell behind in math and science with scores of 19.5 and 20.6. The national averages for English, reading, math and science are 20.3, 21.3, 20.9 and 20.8, respectively.

The test, which consists of the four subcategories and an optional essay, is used by admissions offices to decide if a student is ready for introductory college courses. It also determines whether a student from West Virginia is eligible to receive the Promise scholarship.

Of the 11,191 high school graduates who took the test in 2014, 68 percent are considered ready for college-level English. Less than half are prepared for college reading, math and science, and only 19 percent of students are ready for all four.

Each subtest has a different benchmark that determines college readiness. A student who meets or exceeds it has a 50 percent chance of earning a B or higher in a freshman-level course in that subject.

According to the report, the majority of students are not prepared to succeed in a postsecondary setting, as only 26 percent of American high school graduates meet all four ACT benchmarks.

West Virginia students have a good opportunity to improve though. The report found that 10 percent of test takers were often one or two points shy of meeting a benchmark and that improvements could be made by getting more students to take college preparatory classes.

In a statement, Superintendent Charles Heinlein applauded the class of 2014, but said there is still work to be done. “Students, teachers and parents must continue their unwavering focus on preparing our young citizens for future personal and professional success,” he said.

In its 2014 profile of West Virginia, ACT outlined ways to improve scores and increase college readiness. It suggested providing better access for all students to take the test. Only about 65 percent of high school graduates took it at least once, a 3 percent drop from 2010 but nearly 10 points higher than the national average.

It also suggested encouraging students to develop college and work ready skills regardless of their postsecondary plans, making sure they are taking the right courses, evaluating the rigor of those courses and providing guidance based on a their career and college aspirations.

While only 73 percent of West Virginia’s 2014 high school graduates are now enrolled in a two- or four-year college, 95 percent reported they aspire to pursue a postsecondary education. More than 20 percent were potential first-generation college students.

The ACT is administered in all 50 states and is the predominate college-entrance exam in West Virginia.

Students who earn a 22 composite score and at least 20 points in each of the four subtests are eligible for the Promise Scholarship as long as they maintained a 3.0 grade point average in high school. It provides $4,750 each year.

There are six test dates scheduled between September and June, but students are not required to take it.