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Schools struggle to comply with new federal standards

July 30, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Sixteen schools in Berkeley County, five in Jefferson County and three in Morgan County are in need of improvement, according to federal education officials, but local schools superintendents say a plan of action will be formulated and implemented to address any shortcomings.

Of the 24 local schools that failed to entirely comply with standards established by the No Child Left Behind Act, three - Martinsburg High School, Musselman High School and Charles Town Middle School - have struggled with low test scores, poor participation, poor attendance or low graduation rates for at least two years, the state Department of Education said Tuesday.

Statewide, 326 schools were listed as being in need of improvement, as opposed to 78 the year before. Overall, 402 schools in the state had no problems meeting the guidelines set by the No Child Left Behind Act.

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The act requires states to set clear and high standards for what students in each grade should know, to measure student performance, and to produce annual state and school district report cards reflecting progress.

"The number of schools in need of improvement is a bit deceiving," said state schools Superintendent David Stewart. "No Child Left Behind does not distinguish from those that miss their target by a little bit from those who miss it by a mile."

Beverly Hughes, associate superintendent in Jefferson County, said Charles Town Middle School fell short in several testing areas. When compared to the previous year, however, more students scored in the top 2 percentiles of the Stanford 9 tests and fewer students scored in the bottom percentile, she said.

"We think we're certainly heading in the right direction," Hughes said.

Meetings will be set up with school principals to go over the data and form an improvement plan.

"Our own principals have some questions about how the data was reviewed by the Department of Education," she said.

Over the summer, teachers have been busy brainstorming and attending workshops and training sessions.

"We will look to them for additional suggestions," Hughes said. "We have a lot of work ahead of us, across the board."

In Berkeley County, Deputy Superintendent Frank Aliveto said one problem present at both Martinsburg and Musselman involved special-education students.

Concerns about those students always are present, Aliveto said. He worries not only about them but about how the announcement of the schools in need of improvement will affect public perception.

"Does this mean it's a bad school? It doesn't," he said.

Aliveto compared the situation to that of a new car that might be deemed as needing improvement because of a few scratches.

"Now your car is classified as low-performing," he said.

Once a plan for improvement is implemented, Aliveto said he's fairly confident the high schools will not be on the list next year.

"Can we raise the test scores? I think so," he said. "I think it's going to take a lot of hard work, but I think we'll see improvement. It's not a sprint, but it's a marathon."

Many schools found themselves on the improvement list for having too many special-education and low-income students who scored poorly on standardized tests. Others failed to test at least 95 percent of their students, had poor attendance or low graduation rates.

For schools to be labeled as not needing improvement, they must:

- Meet assessment standards on Total Basic Skills (TBS) or show improvement.

- Meet a 95 percent participation rate on the assessments.

- Secondary schools must meet an 80 percent graduation rate or show improvement.

- Elementary and middle schools must meet a 93 percent attendance rate or show improvement.

About 13 percent of the state's students, mostly special-education students, were excluded from achievement tests last year. About 282,000 students attended 728 public schools in West Virginia last year. Of those, 181,754 children were tested in grades three to 11.

State board Vice President Lloyd Jackson warned that the performance list could spark a public outcry from parents, taxpayers and lawmakers if educators fail to explain how easy it is to get on the list.

"The methodology is flawed," Jackson said. "Schools should be given the opportunity to correct deficiencies for at least a year before sanctions apply. It's not fair to our teachers, our students or our schools."

West Virginia is doing better than some other states in complying with federal law. Last week, California education officials estimated that nearly 70 percent of that state's schools would fail to show adequate progress when results are released in August.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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