by Jorea M. Marple, Ed.D.
Over the past weeks and months, I have heard a lot of talk about the “Education Efficiency Audit of West Virginia’s Primary and Secondary Education System.” It is important for the community to know that the West Virginia Board of Education together with the Department of Education is working diligently to analyze the audit. An official response to the massive audit will take time and careful consideration due to the numerous recommendations. The response will identify major actions and priorities for moving forward public education in West Virginia to meet the increasing needs of our students. These major actions will require the full engagement of our community, including the Governor, Legislature, parents, students, teachers and all West Virginians.
Today I want to stress that the work has begun and has been in progress for some time to positively affect student performance. With the leadership of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, the Legislature and the state Board of Education, extensive improvements have been completed over the past several years that directly supports many of the findings and recommendations in the audit. The work was intended to help the state produce the best possible outcomes for its students and to receive the highest return on the educational dollars it spends.
The decline of the economic and social structures of our community is negatively affecting the children of West Virginia. The solutions to these issues are complex and require the full attention of the entire community. Still, data show we are making progress. Through the difficulties, we as a state must remain focused on achieving West Virginia Board of Education goals of high expectations for
• what we want students to know to meet national and international standards;
• how we want students to behave and develop wellness, responsibility, cultural awareness, self-direction, ethical character and good citizenship;
• what we want students to achieve to be prepared for career and post-secondary success.
While a formal comprehensive response to the audit is forthcoming, we want to provide evidence to the great citizens of West Virginia who support our public schools that real progress that aligns to the audit recommendations is being made in our counties, in our schools and, most importantly, in our classrooms. Consider our focus on improving student achievement. We now have
• Universal Pre-K education programs for all 4-year-olds;
• rigorous content standards that meet or exceed national and international benchmarks;
• rigorous assessments aligned to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) that challenge our students to perform at higher levels;
• professional development for teachers on instructional strategies that will better prepare them to teach, and students to master, national-level curriculum;
• Teach21.com, a website designed to provide our teachers with resources to support engaging, rigorous and relevant 21st century learning in reading, English language arts, mathematics, science, social studies and the arts: http://wvde.state.wv.us/teach21;
• Learn21wv.com, a website designed to provide preschool through 12th grade students a way to continue their learning 24/7 with rich resources in all subject areas: www.learn21wv.com;
• student behavior and dispositions established for each grade level so students and parents know what is expected: http://wvde.state.wv.us/policies/p4373-new.pdf;
• an online early warning system that supports teachers in identifying students who need additional assistance because of attendance, discipline and academic performance that is not meeting expectations;
• before, after and summer school instruction for students in third and eighth grades who required critical skills intervention to improve achievement;
• guidance provided to communities and schools for implementing a balanced calendar, which reduces long summer break and spreads those days throughout the school year to improving learning;
• a new educator evaluation system that includes student achievement as a component;
• a requirement that high schools provide a minimum of four Advanced Placement courses for all students;
• online credit recovery and credit support courses available for students;
• an “Early and Secondary Education Act Flexibility Request” submission, which values and expects each student to make adequate growth in math and reading each year;
• freedom from restrictive time regulations in our elementary and middle schools to support instructional decisions being made at the local level based upon individual student needs.
While much of our work has focused on supporting students and teachers, we have not shied away from improving efficiency. We have done so by
• reorganizing the West Virginia Department of Education to focus on student achievement rather than funding sources;
• making $1.2 million in staff reductions;
• critically reviewing all vacant positions to determine effectiveness and efficiency;
• revising or eliminating 29 state Board of Education policies to support innovation and flexibility;
• revising purchasing policies and procedures to assure that best practices guide expenditure of public funds;
• establishing an electronic career development tool for students and the public to access work force databases and produce individualized career information: http://westvirgina.strategiccompass.com;
• evaluating available statewide bus routing software to enhance efficiency of public school transportation;
• providing universal food service at no cost to students in 283 schools;
• continuing to improve access to bandwidth, technology and school-based staff with the target of providing one-to-one technology for all students.
Limited space does not allow a list of all the highly focused work that is occurring to achieve our board’s goals. Public education must remain the moral imperative of all citizens. We need to be reminded that it makes a difference what every one of us does or does not do to support the ultimate outcome of developing “Good Kids Doing Great Work.”