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Two Berkeley County schools labeled as low performing

August 26, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Although two schools in Berkeley County have been flagged because they did not meet No Child Left Behind standards, overall the county's school system is one parents can be proud of, Schools Superintendent Manny Arvon said Wednesday.

Mostly because of special education reasons, Mill Creek Intermediate in Bunker Hill, W.Va., and Potomack Intermediate in Falling Waters, W.Va., were labeled as low performing. As a result, parents must be allowed to pull their students out of the schools and transfer them to a different schools without any penalties.

Arvon encouraged parents not to act hastily.

"They're excellent schools," he said.

Mill Creek and Potomack are the only Eastern Panhandle schools to be placed on the list.

Under the No Child Left Behind Act, schools are judged on 20 "cells" - which include reading scores, math scores, how minority students perform and other criteria.

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Of Berkeley County's 460 cells, 433 were reached at a mastery level - the highest possible, Arvon said.

Of the remaining 27 cells, 60 percent involved special education students, he said.

At Mill Creek, 19 of 20 cells were positive, with the one miss dealing with special education students. Even if a student has a diagnosed severe learning disability that means he reads at a level below his grade, he is still tested for his grade level, Arvon said.

For example, Arvon said, a fifth-grader may read at a third-grade level because of a diagnosed disability. Although teachers are working with the student to improve his skills, No Child Left Behind allows for no leeway.

That child must be tested at a fifth-grade level.

"I doubt if any school met that this year," Arvon said.

The same problem happened at Potomack Intermediate, with one additional cell missed, Arvon said.

The second dealt with students considered to be of low socioeconomic status - meaning those students who receive free lunches. Those students scored in the 60th percentile for reading, but needed to score in the 68th percentile, Arvon said.

Arvon said that while he appreciates the accountability standards in No Child Left Behind, other aspects of the federal act could be considered unfair.

Some smaller school systems may not be negatively affected in all cells because of a low number of students. Berkeley County's growing population - each of the two intermediate schools flagged has more than 700 students - means that all cells will be examined and counted every year.

"It's not an even playing field," Arvon said.

Reading and math skills at both intermediate schools were excellent, yet Arvon said he is tasked with telling the faculties that their schools have been flagged.

"That's a pretty hard pill to swallow," he said.

Statewide, about one-third of West Virginia's 720 public schools have been flagged as low performing, the state Department of Education announced.

Of the 204 low-performing schools in 2003-04, 136 have struggled with low test scores for at least two years, allowing penalties to kick in. Thirty-eight of those schools - including Mill Creek and Potomack - must offer students the option to transfer to another school. Only seven schools had to offer that option last year.

Nearly 72 percent of public schools, 516, had no problem meeting the guidelines, an improvement over last year when only 60 percent of schools met standards in testing, graduation rates and attendance.

No Child Left Behind 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 adequate yearly progress.

None of the schools was found to have attendance problems, and only 1 percent did not test enough of their students. Both issues had been problem areas in previous years.

Statewide, 89 percent of schools meet graduation guidelines. About 77 percent of students were proficient in reading and language arts, while about 67 percent of students were proficient in math.

Schools that object to how they have been designated can appeal to have their status changed. Kenna Seal, director of the Office of Education and Performance Audits, said he has received about 15 appeals so far and expects some to be approved.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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