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Schools big draw at public forum in W.Va.

October 17, 2000

Schools big draw at public forum in W.Va.



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


INWOOD, W.Va. - On the night of a presidential debate and baseball playoff, 120 people showed up at Musselman High School Tuesday to discuss the future of public education in the state.

Scores of ideas about current problems and how to solve them emerged from the 17 tables of people who hashed out ideas for about two hours under the auspices of the state Department of Education.

Many of the suggested improvements were the same from group to group. Students should learn the basics. They should be prepared for jobs of the future, be taught to be life-long learners, become well-rounded citizens of the community who are educated to their individual potential and open to new and diverse ideas.

"I feel the basics should be mastered, especially at the primary level," said Loretta Brown, who teaches kindergarten and first grade at Greenwood Elementary in Morgan County.

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"Education ought to teach you to be tolerant of a lot of ideas," said Del. Vicki Douglas, D-Berkeley, a former teacher, part of the same group as Brown.

Identifying the goals proved easier that identifying the ways to assess whether they had been met.

"Every state in the union is struggling with this," said Jefferson County Superintendent of Schools David Markoe as the group wrestled with new ways to determine if children are learning.

"If we had the answer to this, we could sell it and make a lot of money," Brown said.

There appeared to be broad agreement that the standardized tests are an inadequate measure of how any student is really learning, especially in the absence of any other markers.

"We need a de-emphasis of testing of some things," said Linda Crawford, a secretary at Greenwood Elementary.

"One test. One day. I hate it," said Douglas.

The group finally decided that several ways should be used to assess students. They include writing, communication, performance and problem solving measurements.

Checking statistics outside school once students graduate is one way to measure performance. Unemployment rates, public assistance rolls, crime rate statistics and voter registration lists could all be checked to see if students got a relevant education to provide them with a living and a grounding to be a productive member of society, several said.

Tests are part of the mix, but many different tools should be used to avoid a one-size-fits all measurement, several people said.

The one group had several suggestions for changes to improve the system, including more local autonomy - letting schools manage how they teach and measure students, using a variety of options.

There was overwhelming support to eliminate "unfunded mandates" - new requirements placed on schools and educators by the Legislature and state government that come unaccompanied by any new money.

There was general agreement teachers need more time to teach.

"There have got to be fewer interruptions for these poor people," Crawford said.

This was the second of eight forums to be held across the state. The results will be compiled and used by state leaders to decide what changes are necessary.

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