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West Virginia Gets "F" On National Education Report Card
By Kera Mashek
January 29, 2014


CHARLESTON, W.Va. (Kera Mashek) A new report says West Virginia is failing its students and teachers. Our state is one of seven in the country getting an "F" on this year's report card from policy group Students First. (http://reportcard.studentsfirst.org/state/West_Virginia)

This new "report card" grades every state in three main areas, connecting state policy with student performance in reading and math.

First, how does the state evaluate the teaching profession, if there's a good system in place to build up good teachers, weed out bad ones, and offer good training and support for educators. In that category, we get a D-.

Next, empowering parents: what are the available options for families, like in-school programs to help students, and availability of charter schools. In that area, West Virginia gets an F.

And third: Does the state wisely spend its education dollars and govern well? Students First thinks our state does not, so we get another D-.

Now--educators, lawmakers, and parents are talking about how we build a better future to bring our state's grades up.

Brian Ulery recently moved from Georgia to Charleston with his family, and he has been surprised with the state's educational system, and not because the schools are lagging behind. In fact--just the opposite.

"When they came here, both of them were a little academically behind the West Virginia education they were getting. We've ended up having to get a tutor for our youngest child and have spent a lot of time with our 9 year old to get him back in line with his peers in third grade," Ulery said.

Those are reasons educational leaders disagree with the Students First report giving the state an overall grade of F.

"Just because that report said that, doesn't mean our overall educational system's bad in West Virginia," said Dr. Ron Duerring, Kanawha Co. superintendent.

Still, Duerring admits there's always room for improvement to help West Virginia schools make the grade. For starters, Governor Tomblin's already proposed a new system of scoring every school's performance, giving them their own report cards with grades A through F. State lawmakers hope it doesn't stop there.

"I think it's imperative that we do have an effective teacher evaluation system, that rewards those teachers that are doing an excellent job in educating students," said Del. Paul Espinosa, (R) House Education Committee member.

The goal is to couple that with also helping them grow, and support teachers who might be struggling, while even starting to prioritize teacher effectiveness over seniority.

"I think we have a responsibility as school districts that we continue to hone their skills, give them new strategies, so that instruction becomes better within our classrooms," said Dr. Duerring.

An education reform bill passed last year is taking the first steps to evaluate teachers based on school-wide student growth, but the Students First report suggests the state can do a lot more to help both students and educators: from providing scholarship options to kids stuck in low-performing schools, lifting a state ban on charter schools, and making sure tax money spent on education is connected to positive results in the classroom.

Of course West Virginia is facing a tight budget year, so starting any new initiatives now could be tough. But Delegate Espinosa is hoping that in the long term, money spent on education can be shuffled around, so less is spent on the government agencies that regulate schools and more of those dollars go straight to the classroom to help kids.

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