News

Overview

The Thrasher Group

July 29, 2011 - Volume 31 Issue 20

 

 

“Journalism is literature in a hurry.” – Matthew Arnold (1822-1888), British poet and cultural critic.


By Jim Wallace

Legislators are looking forward to receiving the Department of Education’s legislative package shortly. For the past few months, state Supt. Jorea Marple has promised to have it ready for lawmakers in August, about five months before the beginning of the 2012 regular session of the Legislature.

Lawmakers have scheduled their August interim meetings unusually early on the first three days of the month, this coming Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Deputy Supt. Chuck Heinlein, who was standing in for Marple, reaffirmed for members of the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability at their July meeting that the department still intends to meet that schedule. He said the department has allowed county superintendents to evaluate proposals in the package and share them with their local school boards.

 New programs are about to get tryouts.

Heinlein and other department officials also told lawmakers that the department is getting ready to initiate programs that could change the way teachers are evaluated, ensure that more students’ nutritional needs are met and turn long bus rides for some students into additional learning time.

Lori Wiggins, executive director of the Office of Professional Preparation, told committee members that the revised teacher evaluation system will be tested in 25 schools during the year ahead. If all goes well, she said, it could be expanded statewide as early as the 2012-2013 school year.

Senate Education Chairman Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, expressed concern about waiting another year for full implementation of the new system. But Amelia Courts, an assistant state superintendent, explained that it couldn’t be done sooner than that because of the need to consider student assessment results in the system.

Courts said planning for the new evaluation system began last August and continued through monthly meetings. She said 20 of the schools were chosen to participate in the pilot program because of their low performance rates and because they receive federal School Improvement Grant funding. The other five schools volunteered to participate in the pilot.

Another pilot project to meet students’ nutritional needs will start this fall in eight counties. West Virginia already is one of just a few states with laws requiring public schools to provide breakfast, but Heinlein said the new universal meal program would go beyond that in providing breakfast and lunch for more students.

“Education is about more than just reading and math,” he said. “It’s about the arts and world language and about increasing quality-of-life skills. Good nutrition is an issue for all of us regardless of income, especially since we’re seeing so much obesity in the state.”

The Education Department designated schools in several counties under state control – McDowell, Mingo, Gilmer, Fayette and Lincoln – for participation in the program. Schools in a few other counties – Clay, Mason and Kanawha – volunteered to participate.

Heinlein said participating schools will be required to adjust their schedules to make breakfast available after the first period of the school day. That’s because school buses sometimes arrive too late for many students, especially those in high school, to have time for breakfast. In many cases, he said, they will receive “grab-and-go” breakfasts.

Plymale commented that “grab-and-go” didn’t sound very nutritional. He questioned whether the students would receive fresh food. Heinlein assured him the food would be a healthy alternative, “a nutritious meal in a bag.” Courts explained that the ingredients would be up to each school, but the department is pushing for schools to serve more made-from-scratch items.

“I don’t think we’re feeding our kids nutritionally,” Plymale said in reference to the traditional use of packaged foods.

Heinlein responded, “We’re asking for retraining of all the cooks that are going to be involved in the program to be cooking from scratch, which is probably what we all experienced when we were in school, rather than the packaged products.”

To make good use of the time of students with long bus rides, Heinlein said, the department is planning and working to fund a program called Books on the Bus. Initially, he said, it would be introduced in Hampshire and Randolph counties – specifically at Capon Bridge Middle and Elementary School, Hampshire Senior High School and Elkins High School – and possibly also in Preston County.

“We know that in those counties there are 125 kids that have a bus ride of an hour or longer,” Heinlein said. “They ought to be able to check out an iPod Touch device from their librarian. Each device will have a protective case and filtering software, as well as charging stations located in the classroom. The school will receive licensing for an online, digital library that will include approximately 30,000 topics of the school’s choosing. These digital libraries will serve approximately 2,800 students in total. The cost of the student service is about $23.99 and includes the cost of the 125 iPod Touch devices. All students in the school will have the ability to download titles to their computers from the initial library that’s purchased.”

The cost would be $68,598 for Hampshire and Randolph counties, he said, and the department was still getting the costs together for Preston County.

 

By Jim Wallace

The state Education Department is making a new effort to get the Legislature to appropriate money the department believes is needed for new technology in the schools. The wish list is a bit more modest than the more than $271 million request the department submitted to the Legislature at the beginning of this year’s regular legislative session – a request that went nowhere.

At the July meeting of Education Subcommittee A, Brenda Williams of the Office of Instructional Technology presented a new proposal that would provide technology funding for just six grade levels, which would be based on the specific needs and strategic plan for each county school system. That brings the total cost down to about $141 million with 65 percent of that from state funds, 25 percent from local funds and 10 percent from federal funds.

“When we discussed this with the superintendents and their instructional leaders, they said this makes more sense.” – Brenda Williams

When we discussed this with the superintendents and their instructional leaders, they said this makes more sense,” Williams said. “This gives us more flexibility.”

Consequently, the department’s request for a state appropriation comes down to $91.7 million. If the improvements are spread over two years, that would be less than $45.9 million per year. Spreading them over four years would bring the cost down to about $22.9 million per year, which lawmakers might find more palatable than doling out a big amount at once.

The proposed improvement package would be in addition to the annual “Tools for Schools” funding, which is the basis for keeping up the existing technology infrastructure. The department also is seeking another $1.85 million for the Career and Technical College and Career Readiness Initiative. That includes $1.5 million annually for five years for development of an online platform and $350,000 for development of career exploration modules for elementary and middle school students.

The technology improvement package is based on a resolution the state school board passed in April to adopt “10 Elements of High Quality Digital Learning”:

  1. Student eligibility: All students are digital learners.
  2. Student access: All students have access to high quality digital content and online courses.
  3. Personalized learning: All students can customize their education using digital content through an approved digital learning provider.
  4. Advancement: Students progress based on demonstrated competency.
  5. Content: Digital content, instructional materials and online and blended learning courses are high quality.
  6. Instruction: Digital instruction and teachers are high quality.
  7. Digital learning providers: All students have access to multiple high quality digital learning providers.
  8. Assessment and accountability: Student learning is one method of evaluating the quality of content and instruction.
  9. Funding: Funding creates incentives for performance, options and innovation.
  10. Delivery: Infrastructure supports digital learning.

Williams singled out the element on personalized learning and said, “That’s major,” because it helps students become engaged.

“Before, we looked at it: How does it work for a whole class,” she said. “Now, we’ve gone to: How does it work for that individual student?”

The public school system needs a dependable infrastructure, Williams said, and it must be prepared to deliver more content digitally. In addition, she said, new tests will come in 2014 as part of the Smarter Balanced Assessment program that will require online testing, which must be supported by robust bandwidth and one-to-one computing devices. She said the department wants to make sure digital learning helps students with online testing.

Reiterating information lawmakers have received at other interim meetings the past few months, Williams said the public education system must prepare students in an equitable way for careers and college. If the schools don’t engage them at the elementary and middle school levels, they will lose those students at the high school level, she said. Williams said the redesign of vocational education at the middle school level is on track.

“Where are we going to get the money?” – Delegate Brady Paxton

But after hearing the presentation, Delegate Brady Paxton, D-Putnam, had one question about the Education Department’s technology proposal: “Where are we going to get the money?” Williams responded that it would be up to others to figure that out; she was asked just to provide the costs.

Sen. Richard Browning, D-Wyoming, noted that the state has received $126 million in federal stimulus funds for broadband expansion and wondered if that money was figured into the department’s planning. Williams responded that the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program provides “a large pipe” to each school, but the school still needs connections to that pipe and within the school.

 


By Jim Wallace

Changes are coming to West Virginia’s system of testing student achievement.

In the coming school year, school districts will have more flexibility in determining when in May to give the WESTEST2. They also will begin to see a “growth model” of assessment.

Juan D’Brot, executive director of the Office of Assessment and Accountability in the Education Department, told members of Education Subcommittee B at their July meeting that the flexibility in scheduling the WESTEST2 follows the Legislature’s decision to give school districts more flexibility in setting the beginning and ending dates of the school year. In the past, districts could not schedule the WESTEST2 before May 15, but beginning in the 2011-2012 school year, testing can begin as early as May 7, he said. Districts will have 10 consecutive school days for testing and must tell the Education Department which 10 they intend to use, he said.

“Essentially, we’re trying to avoid that WESTEST occurs too early and then have some dead instructional time at the end of the year,” D’Brot said.

When asked if school districts have been notified of the date change, D’Brot said the department began alerting the counties as early as February.

“We’re basically as flexible as the counties need us to be,” he said. “We now tell districts to use the two weeks however they see best fit.” – Juan D’Brot

“We’re basically as flexible as the counties need us to be,” he said. “We now tell districts to use the two weeks however they see best fit.”

But he added that the schools are limited to giving the test over a two-week period for good reason. “The longer the test is in the school the more danger you have for any violations or breach in security,” D’Brot said.

The state’s switch to a growth model for assessments is related to concerns expressed across the country about the federal No Child Left Behind law, which has been in effect for several years. Even President Obama has expressed concern about the number of schools that are considered failing under the law, D’Brot said. Many people have recognized that No Child Left Behind is not very sensitive and fails to recognize how well a student moves from Point A to Point B, he said, so two years of discussion have led to the growth model that is being rolled out this year.

As D’Brot explained it, the growth model will consider not just whether a student reaches an achievement level but will consider where that student started from and how fast the student progressed. If the student has not finished that level of achievement, the model will figure out when the student should finish, he said.

“What we’re basically saying now is we can identify how fast a student is growing, what is their change from year to year and how are they projected to perform on WESTEST,” D’Brot said. “While we are using the growth model to drive conversations about the school improvement and personal growth, we are not adding it to the accountability system. So there will not be changes to [adequate yearly progress].”

If a school is not expected to make adequate yearly progress in the current model, it probably won’t make it in the growth model, he said.

“We’re not trying to create a magic bullet or panacea. Basically, what we’re doing is trying to reframe data to make it more accessible to students, teachers and parents, so they can better understand what student performance really means.” – Juan D’Brot

“We’re not trying to create a magic bullet or panacea,” D’Brot said. “Basically, what we’re doing is trying to reframe data to make it more accessible to students, teachers and parents, so they can better understand what student performance really means.”

A result of the switch, he said, is that the new model will change conversations toward promoting continued growth.

When asked if the new growth model would be introduced just as a pilot this school year, D’Brot said the goal is to get it into every school. He said the system is making a transition from a paper-based to a screen-based reporting system. Every school district will receive reports that showcase students’ performance, schools’ performance and district performance, he said.

D’Brot also told lawmakers that West Virginia schools face a steep curve for improving their performance so that they meet the requirements of adequate yearly progress. During the 2009-2010 school year, 85 percent of a school’s students were required to be proficient in measurable objectives for that school to meet adequate yearly progress. But he said the state had to reset its entire trajectory when it adopted a new, more rigorous version of WESTEST, which was designed to make state performance and national performance comparable. During the first year of the new test, the passage rate was a relatively low 33 percent, but it will be 55 percent next year, more than 80 percent the following year and 100 percent the year after that, he said.

“It’s a pretty steep jump every year,” D’Brot said. “We designed this test to be as difficult and as rigorous as the national assessments. So this is not really uncommon. We did not anticipate that we would have to jump so fast, but we did anticipate that we would have to move pretty quickly.”

Sen. Dan Foster, D-Kanawha, expressed concern that some students don’t take the tests seriously, which could hurt their schools’ performance. D’Brot said the Education Department is aware that some schools give students incentives to perform well while others penalize those who do poorly, so the department wants to study the effectiveness of each method.

“Test talks” are one method for improving students’ performance.

Also during Education Subcommittee B’s meeting, Mary Lu MacCorkle, school improvement specialist, explained that schools are encouraged to use “test talks” to help improve students’ performance. Under that concept, an adult, such as a principal, counselor or teacher, meets with students three to four times per year to discuss their progress on content standards. She said students can do their own analysis, beginning by looking over their test results. The adult asks which areas students did well in and which areas they need help in, she said, and then they have the students formulate concrete goals.

MacCorkle said students begin to take ownership of their learning. She said the strategy works as well in elementary schools as it does in high schools.

“If they can be involved in their own learning, be engaged, then they’re going to be far more successful,” MacCorkle said. “And really, isn’t that what we want them to do in everything?”

But Delegate Tiffany Lawrence, D-Jefferson, asked how school officials can find time to spend on test talks when they have so many other demands on their time. MacCorkle said it takes only 10 to 15 minutes to do a test talk and it can be done in groups, although smaller groups are better for the students who need the most help.

“You can figure out ways of doing that,” she said.

When Lawrence asked if some students have resisted the test talks, MacCorkle conceded that is an issue but said regular discussions help.

“It does become a part of their record, and you do point out that when people see a discrepancy between their capability and their performance, even if it doesn’t count, then they tend to do a little bit better,” she said. “Typically, it depends on the culture of the school. It’s a process that they have to build that acceptance.”

MacCorkle added that the process works remarkably well with many students.

“It’s a powerful, powerful motivator for kids to sit down and have a talk with their principal, somebody who really cares, and gives that impression to the kids,” she said. “It can be a powerful motivator for kids if the principal sits down and has a session with them.”

 

By Jim Wallace

Both the Legislature and the Tomblin administration are devoting more attention to West Virginia’s problems with substance abuse, and one legislative leader expects the approach to address education as well as health and judicial issues.

Acting Gov. Tomblin is getting ready to appoint a substance abuse task force. It comes in the wake of his six-stop “listening tour” around the state during which he spoke with people in Beckley, Bluefield, Bridgeport, Kearneysville, Logan and Huntington about the substance abuse issues in their communities.

The Legislature already has a judiciary subcommittee that is studying substance abuse issues, but during a July interim legislative meeting, the Joint Committee on Health formed two new subcommittees, including one devoted to substance abuse. That panel, Subcommittee B, will be led by Delegate Bobbie Hatfield, D-Kanawha, and Sen. Bill Laird, D-Fayette. Members include: Delegate Cliff Moore, D-McDowell; Delegate Ricky Moye, D-Raleigh; Delegate Meshea Poore, D-Kanawha; Delegate Jonathan Miller, R-Berkeley; Sen. Jack Yost, D-Brooke; Sen. Mark Wills, D-Mercer; Sen. Truman Chafin, D-Mingo; and Sen. Mike Hall, R-Putnam.

Subcommittee A will study health care reform. Its co-chairmen are Delegate Tom Campbell, D-Greenbrier, and Sen. Evan Jenkins, D-Cabell. The members are: Delegate Linda Phillips, D-Wyoming; Margaret Stagger, D-Fayette; Denise Campbell, D-Randolph; Delegate Joe Ellington, R-Mercer; Sen. Dan Foster, D-Kanawha; Sen. Roman Prezioso, D-Marion; Sen. Ronald Miller, D-Greenbrier; and Sen. Donna Boley, R-Pleasants.

One of the committee’s co-chairmen, Delegate Don Perdue, D-Wayne, said another subcommittee might be former later.

State task force will recognize regional differences.

Jason Pizatella, director of legislative affairs for Gov. Tomblin, told the committee that Tomblin’s task force on substance abuse will be regional in nature. The governor will appoint a steering committee of 10 to 15 members by August, Pizatella said, and charge them with coming up with collaborative solutions to substance abuse problems.

“It will require a solution that involves many different constituencies, including legislators, law enforcement, physicians, pharmacists, those in our community corrections system and day report centers, and others who come in contact with the plague of prescription drug abuse,” he said. “We know that this will require bold choices on our part.”

It also will require a dedicated source of funding, Pizatella said. The approach must recognize regional differences, he said, because Tomblin learned from his listening tour that each region faces its own challenges on substance abuse.

“We did more listening than we did talking,” Pizatella said.

DHHR also will present a substance abuse plan.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health and Human Resources and its Bureau for Behavioral Health and Health Facilities have been working for more than a year on a long-range plan on substance abuse. DHHR Secretary Mike Lewis, who attended five of Tomblin’s six meetings around the state, said different suggestions came from each meeting.

Pizattela said Tomblin is very pleased with the department’s activities to develop the long-range plan, which will be submitted in October to the court-appointed monitor overseeing behavioral health issues. He said a draft of the plan will be submitted to the Legislature in August.

Vickie Jones, commissioner of the Bureau for Behavioral Health and Health Facilities, told lawmakers that the state has tried many approaches over the years to address substance abuse issues, including arrests, incarceration and involuntary commitments. What is needed, she said, is a comprehensive strategic statewide plan.

Jones said the bureau has funded group homes, community supports, day treatment centers, care coordinators, and increased salaries for direct care staff. In addition, she said, the bureau has changed medication prescription policies, developed electronic health records and increased Medicaid funding. “Bringing that all together is probably the critical effort that we have to do as a state,” she said, and the system must be sustainable.

“It’s very difficult to manage when you don’t have sustainability,” Jones said. “We not only look at our structure and financing; we look at our long-term plans. We don’t only look at prevention; we look at recovery. We don’t only look at community-based environments; we look at acute-care, inpatient environments, as well. The full continuum of care must be addressed in order to resolve the problem.”

Changing operations will require some funding from the Legislature, she said, but the plan is not just about funding. “At the same time, there are also opportunities to do things in a different way,” she said. Jones said the bureau will look at not just funding streams but at what works. It will expect community-based task forces to come up with community-based solutions that will feed into a statewide initiative, she said.

“In the Bureau for Behavioral Health and Health Facilities, we do believe that prevention works, that treatment is effective and that recovery does happen,” Jones said. “While that’s not the only solution, we do understand that it’s a very important part of the solution.”

The committee’s other co-chairman, Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, said that lawmakers want to work with all branches of government to “get our arms around a monster.” He said they must consider the medical aspects of substance abuse and also recognize that it is an education issue.

“At what age are we going to have to delve down into our education system where we can somehow turn off the faucet? It’s much harder and much more costly when we start trying to deal with this after there is already an addiction instead of a prevention issue. I see education being a huge issue.” – Sen. Ron Stollings

“At what age are we going to have to delve down into our education system where we can somehow turn off the faucet?” Stollings asked. “It’s much harder and much more costly when we start trying to deal with this after there is already an addiction instead of a prevention issue. I see education being a huge issue.”

Perdue, who often was frustrated at what he saw as inadequate action from DHHR when Joe Manchin was governor and Martha Walker was secretary of the department, said, “It’s really pleasant to see an administration that now is willing to plumb the depth” for solutions to substance abuse problems.

Pizatella told the committee that Tomblin has spoken with the governors of Ohio, Kentucky and Maryland about how their states have addressed substance abuse problems and how the states can work together.