In the early phases of the equal opportunity emphasis, the Pauley v. Kelly case, later known as the Tomblin v. Gainer case, shined a penetrating light on the state’s educational system. The case and its outcome, better known today as the Recht decision, addressed the inadequacy of the input and the facilities in our school system.
In 1982, the West Virginia Legislature responded to the decision by constructing a plan that would adhere to the decision. It enacted an amended funding formula, defined schools standards and enacted accountability measures. In 1998, the Legislature took further action by substantially revising the education system it put in place in 1982. As part of the revision, the Legislature established the Office of Education Performance Audits (OEPA) to review the performance of county school systems and schools to determine how well State Board of Education policies and standards were being met.
Since the OEPA was established, we have been able to assist several county school systems get back and remain on track with their finances, test scores, facility maintenance, etc. Once progress is made, counties begin working on their own.
Today with new standards established by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, accountability for student learning is determined at the state, county, school and classroom levels, and student achievement is analyzed by the performance of various subgroups of students rather than by the traditional average of all students. As a result, we have better information about the academic achievement of all our students. This expanded information indicates a wide difference in student achievement exists between minority and white students.
Just this year, the WESTEST was in full implementation. No more are teachers teaching to the test. Now they are teaching the state’s content standards established by the State Board, allowing us to better identify in which subgroups the achievement gap is narrow and where improvements need to be made.
According to data released by the Manhattan Institute as part of the 2003 Public High School Graduation and College Readiness Rates in the United State Study, West Virginia’s graduation rate for black students is 70 percent, the second highest in the nation. Also, West Virginia is presently ranked fifth in the nation as the state with the lowest achievement gap between afro-Americans and white students. But I think most would agree, any gap is too large. What can we do in West Virginia to close this achievement gap?
First, we must address areas such as professional development for principals and teachers. This professional development should include different ways to motivate all students to learn. In math and science, we must evaluate not only what we teach but also how we teach. And last, but not least, research indicates when parents are involved in their children’s education, the children perform at a higher level than those who have parents who do not show an interest. Therefore, we in education must direct a strong effort toward increasing the parental involvement of all our parents.
A quarter of century after I started serving on the WV Board of Education, we embark upon another phase of educational reform. The West Virginia Legislature again showed its commitment to education and its progressive thinking when it passed House Bill 4669 in March 2004. This important piece of legislation establishes professional development schools throughout the state. These 30 schools, all of which serve large numbers of economically disadvantaged students and many minority students, will receive intensive technical assistance for the purpose of improving the academic performance of the students in these schools. Ultimately, West Virginia is expected to develop a model for school improvement that I am confident will be the envy of the nation.
This new phase is beginning to take shape. The new Division of School Improvement will provide the needed technical assistance to these selected schools. It will measure their academic performances annually and turn these schools into real success stories.
As this phase of educational reform sets its roots into the Mountain State, I am optimistic that West Virginia’s principals and teachers will grow and meet the challenge of closing the achievement gap between all subgroups. All of our children need the very best education available so they can become citizens in the global society that awaits them upon graduation.