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W.Va. schools start year with good marks

August 23, 1998

WV schools prepareBy DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer, Charles Town

photo: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer [enlarge]




CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Eastern Panhandle students will dust off their book bags this week and head back to a public school system that is receiving favorable reviews from educators.

At a state conference in Charleston, W.Va., two weeks ago, state Superintendent of Schools Henry Marockie said there are several strong indicators that the state's education system is performing well.

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One sign is that 75 percent of the state's county school systems scored at or above the 50th percentile in the Stanford Achievement test, said Marockie.

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The Stanford test is a widely used national test that is tougher than the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills that was given to state students until two years ago, said state Department of Education spokeswoman Kim Nuzum.

If students are scoring at or above the 50th percentile, school officials are confident they are learning the skills required for academic success, Nuzum said.

The test is given in grades three through 11. In Berkeley County last year, the district's 11th-graders scored at the 60th percentile on the Stanford, according to state figures.

Jefferson County's 11th-graders scored in the 59th percentile and Morgan County's juniors finished in the 49th percentile, according to state figures.

Marockie also said West Virginia ranked first in the Quality Counts system, the only national ranking of state school systems. The system was developed by Education Week, an educational newspaper.

But a researcher with Education Week said there is no such ranking system. Rather than a single ranking, the Quality Counts program scores states in a number of areas, including student performance, teaching quality and distribution of resources, said Bridget Curran, a senior research associate who helped put together the report.

"We actually don't like when states do that because it's not what we did," said Curran.

One area the Quality Counts report looks at is results of a National Assessment of Educational Progress, a test developed by the U.S. Department of Education, said Curran.

It is up to states whether they want to participate in the test, said Curran.

In West Virginia, 21 percent of the state's eighth-graders scored proficient in science on the test, and 14 percent of the state's eighth-graders scored proficient in math, said Curran.

They are not high scores, but it's a trend that is common among states, said Curran.

The Quality Counts report also has a standards and assessments category, which grades state school systems on academic standards they have set for children, Curran said.

West Virginia was given a B-plus in that category. The state was given a B-minus for its policies to raise the quality of teaching, Curran said.

Despite the differing views on statistics, local school officials agree with Marockie that the state school system is moving ahead.

The state has made impressive gains to put computers in classrooms, make buildings safe from violence and start innovative management programs, said Lawrence Hitt, principal of Shepherdstown Elementary School.

Shepherdstown Elementary was one of 19 schools across the state that were recognized this month as 1997 West Virginia Schools of Excellence. The school applied for federal grants to set up a program to increase students' math computation skills. Last year, the school's sixth-graders scored in the 72nd percentile in the Stanford Achievement test, said Hitt.

"We have a very supportive community, a great group of teachers, and it just works," said Hitt.

Winchester Avenue Elementary and Martinsburg High schools in Berkeley County were also named 1997 West Virginia Schools of Excellence this month.

At Martinsburg High last year, all grades scored above the 60th percentile on the Stanford, said Principal Rick Deuell. The school has also concentrated on lowering its dropout rate, which has gone from 26 percent to 5.6 percent, he said.

Martinsburg High started a night school four years ago to help kids catch up on their studies after dropping out. Some kids come back to school after realizing that dropping out didn't pay off like they thought it would, said Deuell.

"We still have kids dropping out, but we can grab onto a lot of them," he said.

School starts Wednesday in the three Panhandle counties.

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