Legislative News




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December 15, 2017 - Volume 37 Issue 12

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By Jim Wallace

West Virginia’s county school districts are choosing a variety of ways to work together now that Regional Education Service Agencies (RESAs) are being phased out. Some are forming Education Service Cooperatives to replace RESAs, while others are opting for individual agreements with their neighbors.

Meanwhile, districts with small populations and those without levies are struggling more in life without RESAs, so many of them are working together to figure out how to cope.

In other business, the committee heard about progress on developing virtual school instruction, helping students return to school activities after suffering concussions, the possibilities for allowing more personalized learning for West Virginia students, and a plea for helping deaf students communicate and learn better.

The elimination of RESAs by June 30, 2018, was one of the key provisions of House Bill 2711, which the legislature passed early this year. The new law allows districts to band together to create Education Service Cooperatives to replace the RESAs, but they don’t have to join the ESCs and can enter other forms of agreements for sharing services with other districts instead.

Jason Butcher, coordinator for the state school board, told the Joint Standing Committee on Education, that at least two ESCs are being formed in parts of the state, but districts in certain other areas are showing little interest in ESCs.

For example, he said, districts from RESA 8 have formed the Eastern Panhandle Instructional Cooperative, while districts from RESA 1 and RESA 4 – from Pocahontas County down to Mercer County – are forming the Southeastern Education Cooperative. But, Butcher said, districts in the Northern Panhandle down to the Parkersburg area have shown no interest in creating an ESC. Other districts around the state are either still in the process of deciding what to do or are choosing to enter into other types of inter-county agreements.

Gary Price, superintendent of the Marion County schools and president of the West Virginia Association of School Administrators, comes from RESA 7, which has been the largest RESA with 12 counties. He said districts in that area have chosen to use individual collaborative agreements among themselves rather than form an ESC. He said very small counties, especially those without levies, are still concerned about being able to pick up services that have been handled by RESAs.

“As one of the middle-size counties, we’re certainly going to do all we can to help our neighbors that maybe don’t have the same resources. We don’t want to see any children left behind.” – Gary Price

“As one of the middle-size counties, we’re certainly going to do all we can to help our neighbors that maybe don’t have the same resources,” Price said. “We don’t want to see any children left behind.”

A superintendent from a county with a small population, Doug Lambert of Grant County, credited Berkeley and Jefferson counties with being very helpful to others in the eastern part of the state. Despite expressing some uncertainty about the process, he joined Price in welcoming the new flexibility the state is giving to school districts.

“We were kind of given a destination without a roadmap, but we’re going to get there.” – Doug Lambert

“We aren’t a bit afraid of accountability,” Lambert said. “We stand ready to do what’s expected.”

However, he added, “We were kind of given a destination without a roadmap, but we’re going to get there.”

Butcher said that, when the state school board convened a task force of county superintendents and school business officials, two issues popped up with the new law – one involving federal money and another on retirement.

RESAs have been considered to be state agencies, so they have been able to collect more in indirect cost fees – about 9 percent – from federal grants, he said, but ESCs are considered to be local education agencies, so they can get only 3 percent to 5 percent. That’s especially an issue for the three counties at the tip of the Eastern Panhandle, Butcher said, because they have run a Head Start program through their RESA.

The other problem is that House Bill 2711 states that ESC employees should be eligible for state retirement benefits, but the law fails to specify whether those benefits should be from the Teachers Retirement System or the Public Employees Retirement System. Butcher said the Consolidated Public Retirement Board wants to hold off making a decision on the matter until the first ESC employees apply to the board.

In addition, he said, counties with small populations and without levies are working together on their common post-RESA issues. For organizational purposes, counties were divided into four quadrants to address the new provisions of House Bill 2711. Now, Butcher said, the small counties and those without levies have formed a “fifth quadrant” to address the issues they share. He said 18 superintendents attended the first meeting of that group.

Meanwhile, the West Virginia School Board Association has put together guidelines, which are available on the association’s website, to help districts navigate the new provisions of House Bill 2711. Howard O’Cull, executive director of the WVSBA, said most districts have used them. Everything is built around needs assessments, he said. The WVSBA has worked on issues of inter-county cooperation since 2013, when legislation required the association to hold a series of meetings for district officials to discuss those issues, he said.

O’Cull said he has found that county superintendents want to make the new law work. He said they want to implement the law and get it done right.

Butcher praised the WVSBA for the guidelines the association developed.

“I really believe we’re making headway,” he said. “We’re getting questions answered, and we’re helping the counties.”

“I really believe we’re making headway. We’re getting questions answered, and we’re helping the counties.” – Jason L. Butcher

Districts get into virtual school courses.

On the subject of virtual learning, Lou Maynus, assistant superintendent for the Division of Teaching and Learning in the Education Department, told legislators that several districts are taking advantage of the provisions of Senate Bill 630, which allows county boards to let students do more online learning. She said at least 102 schools with enrollments of more than 3,000 students and more than 7,000 course registrations are using courses from the department’s West Virginia Virtual School. In addition, six schools in Mingo County are using other virtual courses and have 136 students enrolled.

Maynus said schools can offer up to 10 courses for free through West Virginia Virtual School and then pick up costs for additional courses. All the core courses for middle school and high school are offered, she said. The department took money from a technology fund to pay for the Virtual School, she said.

Greenbrier County has been offering virtual courses since the beginning of the school year with 30 students enrolled initially, Maynus said, and the school boards in Calhoun County and Mingo County have approved virtual school policies. Other counties she said are in the process of implementing policies include: Hancock, Hardy, Jackson, Kanawha, Monongalia, Monroe and Tucker. She expects more districts to get involved by the end of the school year.

In regard to how schools handle students who have suffered concussions, the failure of a bill on the subject to get through the legislature has not prevented progress on the matter. The Department of Education and the West Virginia University Center for Excellence in Disabilities Traumatic Brain Injury Services Program have been working on a Return-to-Learn policy since the regular legislative session ended last spring.

“This has been a very good cooperative partnership between our two entities, and we think we have reached some really good solutions to ensure student safety without having to utilize valuable legislative time.” – Heather Hutchins

“This has been a very good cooperative partnership between our two entities, and we think we have reached some really good solutions to ensure student safety without having to utilize valuable legislative time,” Heather Hutchins, general counsel for the Department of Education, said. “In other words, we’ve been able to do this ourselves and hope that that could even be a model for future endeavors.”

The goal is to make sure any student who has received a concussion receives the appropriate supports and additional services in schools, she said.

Sara Miller, traumatic brain injury specialist at the WVU Center for Excellence in Disabilities, said her agency has worked with the Office of Special Education to insert language on concussion protocols into its guidelines manual. After three large, in-person workgroup meetings, the agencies worked to develop a customized REAAP (Reduce, Educate, Accommodate, Adjust and Pace) manual, she said.

It is to be adopted as a manual of best practices for West Virginia, Miller said, and her center will fund follow-up training for school personnel and parents.

“Our collaborations are working very well,” she said. “We feel that we’ll be very successful in accomplishing these Return-to-Learn goals without legislation.”

“We absolutely believe that,” Hutchins said. The department has scheduled training sessions and plans to embed documents on specific concussion protocols in the school nurse needs assessment, she said. The department also will provide templates for school nurses and teams who deal with students who have had concussions, all driven by medical protocols, she said. She noted that the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission put into place specific concussion training annually for student athletes, parents and coaches in a return-to-play protocol after legislation passed in 2013.

Legislators hear more about personalized learning.

At an earlier meeting, the Joint Standing Committee on Education heard about personalized learning from Erin Lockett, senior policy analyst for Next Generation Policies Foundation for Excellence in Education. She said the biggest change her organization has seen over the past few years is in mindset.

“More people are viewing personalized learning as critical for getting students ready for college and career.” - Erin Lockett

“More people are viewing personalized learning as critical for getting students ready for college and career,” Lockett said. The finish line now is viewed as proficiency rather than end-of-course grades, she said.

Her organization has been studying how about 800 schools across the nation have handled personalized learning and communicate about it after the organization noticed many schools struggling with it. Lockett said the foundation found most states provide schools with flexibility, but schools generally underuse it.

States are handling this differently, she said. For example, Idaho, Ohio and Nevada have created programs through statutes. Some state departments are creating voluntary collaborative organizations, allowing districts to partner with others. Many states are partnering with external organizations, either developed by the states or independently. In California, many schools are trying to implement personalized learning with no support from the state.

Schools encounter many short-term challenges when implementing personalized learning programs, such as how to report data to the state, how to issue credit and how to record data in gradebooks, Lockett said.

Perceived barriers also can be difficult, she said. Her foundation refers to one as “the threat of the rogue auditor,” which makes districts reluctant to step outside of known paths for fear of getting penalized by the state. Another issue is that many parents and students are concerned about what diplomas would look like. They want them to be accepted by colleges, universities and scholarship organizations, Lockett said.

In the 2017 regular session, the West Virginia Legislature considered but did not pass House Bill 3061, which would have encouraged schools to use mastery-based education through the Innovation in Schools program. Lockett said the biggest thing that legislation would have done is to show districts that the state is willing to offer needed support. It uses the term “mastery-based” and recognizes that is difficult to achieve, it would establish a clear feedback loop for improvement, and it would focus on communication and outreach, she said.

“We’re really excited about the work that has been happening in all of these states.” - Erin Lockett

“We’re really excited about the work that has been happening in all of these states,” Lockett said. To aid that, she said, her organization has created a network of innovation states.

Asked what she wants legislators to do, Lockett said she just wants to keep them informed. “We do view this as a really important step for West Virginia to continue along this path to get your students college- and career-ready,” she said.

In regard to the costs, Lockett said, it would be hard to say what they are until schools and districts start implementing personalized learning programs.

House Education Chairman Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, said the House of Delegates passed House Bill 3061, but the Senate ran out of time before it got through the process. He said the bill focused on the fact that students learn at different rates. Adding to that, Lockett said, the idea is that, if students master 80 percent of the material in a course, then 20 percent is missing, so they have not done enough.

Espinosa said there has been some pushback against the proposal. He said some people are concerned the concept means some students will spend more time in front of computers.

Lockett said that is not necessarily true. “The fact is you can do mastery-based [learning] without technology,” she said. Technology provides a tool and support for teachers, schools and districts to make the transition easier, she said, but the concept is about figuring out the best methods for each student to learn the material.

Espinosa said another concern some people have expressed is that companies that supply technology will do excessive datamining on students. Lockett responded that protecting student data is important. There should be a balance between protecting student’s data and allowing enough data to do what is needed, she said. Creating a network within the state to allow districts to talk with each other would help with that, she said.

Delegate Marshall Wilson, R-Berkeley, said, “I really like the idea of decentralization. What that does is it moves you away from a sort of industrial approach where you just kind of stamp kids out and you move them along. I have nine children, and I can tell you they’re all very different, and they learn differently and need different training and education styles.”

“If we’re going to decentralize the process, why don’t we just decentralize the process?” – Delegate Marshall Wilson

However, he said, his concern is about moving toward decentralization and then imposing a network over it, which re-imposes the industrial process on it. “If we’re going to decentralize the process, why don’t we just decentralize the process?” he asked.

Lockett disagreed with Wilson’s characterization. She said Idaho passed legislation that requires districts to apply to participate in personalized learning. They must think through how it actually will work in their schools, she said, and then the network helps figure out different ways to get there for students. In Idaho, groups of schools can talk about how to overcome barriers and what help they need from the state, she said.

Advocate asks for changes in educating deaf students.

On the subject of deaf students, Donna Williams, who described herself as the point of contact for West Virginia LEAD-K asked for including deaf adults in decision-making about teaching deaf students. She said that LEAD-K stands for Language Equality Acquisition for Deaf Kids (before they enter kindergarten).

Williams, who can speak but not hear, said that deaf children who don’t acquire language before kindergarten continue to be deprived all through school and life because the brain is 90 percent developed by age five. She complained that the West Virginia Association of the Deaf focuses on language, not communication.

Monica DellaMea, executive director of the Education Department’s Office of Early Learning, said the department wants to honor family choice. She said it is important to educate families of deaf children. A bill the legislature considered in its last regular session would have allowed families to choose their mode of communication in language development, such as signing versus spoken language, she said.

“We have a pretty robust birth-to-three system here in the state,” DellaMea said. The Department of Health and Human Resources maintains that system, she said, so her agency had the Department of Education stricken from last session’s bill because ‘we did not want to muddy the waters.” DHHR is the appropriate partner for this legislation, she said. However, a spokeswoman for the Association for the Deaf told committee members that the Department of Education should be included in legislation to provide for seamless, smooth language development for children.

Delegate Ruth Rowan, R-Hampshire, said U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., has introduced a bill in Congress to encourage states to plan and provide specialized instruction for all deaf, hard-of-hearing, blind, visually impaired and deaf-blind students.

By Jim Wallace

The West Virginia Department of Education expects to get several million dollars less from the legislature for the next school year but have to put more money into helping schools handle children of opioid-addicted parents. State Superintendent Steve Paine and other department officials revealed those and other expectations when they appeared at the latest meeting of the legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Finance. They also revealed that this year’s statewide drop in enrollment is about one-third greater than expected, and public opinion is running strongly against reducing the number of credit-hours needed for high school graduation but strongly in favor of statewide uniformity in the grading scale.

However, before they got into those subjects, Paine told the committee about the state school board’s desire to be a good partner with the legislature, even to the extent of accepting more legislative authority over the public education system.

“They want to work with you, very closely with you, even to the point where we would be interested in opening up the LOCEA language to provide more meaningful and stronger input from the legislature into the oversight process of the state board of education and our rules.” – Supt. Steve Paine

“They want to work with you, very closely with you, even to the point where we would be interested in opening up the LOCEA language to provide more meaningful and stronger input from the legislature into the oversight process of the state board of education and our rules,” he said. LOCEA is the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability, one of the major committees to which the state board and Department of Education must report regularly.

On the subject of the budget, Terry Harless, chief financial officer for the Department of Education, told the Finance Committee that the department already is expecting its appropriation for the fiscal year that will begin next July to drop by at least $5.5 million from this year’s level. But just as soon as he said that, he added that the decrease is likely to be greater than that.

One reason for that is that this year’s enrollment drop looks as though it is 2,482 students, which is 622 students more than the 1,859 the department projected in September, Harless said. That means the department must pay out less to the county school districts through the School Aid Formula, which is based on enrollment. Other reasons are the school board no longer must pay for the Office of Education Performance Audits, which has been eliminated, or Regional Education Service Agencies (RESAs), which are being phased out. Likewise, the Cedar Lakes Conference Center has been moved out of the Department of Education and into the Department of Agriculture.

The drop in the education budget is part of a long-running trend. Harless told legislators that it now represents just 43 percent of the state’s total appropriations, down from 57 percent in 1992. Currently, the department’s total state appropriation is about $1.9 billion and it gets about $500 million in federal funds, he said. About 98 percent of the department’s funding flows out to the county school districts, either directly or indirectly, he said.

“We have received a lot of positive feedback on the flexibility in local control features that were granted. “Counties much appreciate that.” – Terry Harless

“We have received a lot of positive feedback on the flexibility in local control features that were granted,” Harless said in reference to legislation passed earlier this year. “Counties much appreciate that.”

However, he said, sparsely populated counties are struggling with expenses for service personnel. Counties are employing more service personnel than they are getting funding for, Harless said. The average number employed is 50, while the average number funded is 45, he said.

Superintendent pitches new strategic plan.

Paine took the opportunity of appearing before the committee to promote the state school board’s strategic plan. Its top priority is a heavy focus on reducing the gap in reading and mathematics skills among third grade students.

“There’s no substitute for a foundation in reading by the third grade,” Paine said. “In grades four through eight, we will continue to focus on those basic skills of reading and mathematics.”

However, he said, the board also wants a strong focus on identifying occupations and careers to help kids have the opportunity to explore them, and that gets even stronger emphasis in the high school grades. He expressed admiration for programs in Texas, Maryland and Colorado, where graduates of two-year, highly technical associate degree programs are now earning more than their four-year degree counterparts.

Paine described hearing a presentation from a superintendent, principal and teacher from Roscoe, Texas. The teacher was only 24 years old, but she had been teaching already for four years, he said. She received an associate degree from her high school in the foundational courses that prepared her to be a teacher, he said, and then she took two years of classes at Texas Tech University. Thus, at age 20, she graduated with a full four-year degree to be a math teacher. Paine wants to explore such a program to curb some of the shortages of teachers in West Virginia.

Because of changes in the economy, he said, some people are predicting that about half of high school graduates should be directed into two-year college degree programs and the other half should be directed into four-year college degree programs. He said the two-year, career-technical education programs would be good for supplying workers for the highway construction jobs, energy sector jobs, information technology jobs and hardwood industry jobs that West Virginia will need to fill. Paine, who became state superintendent for the second time in April, said that situation has changed since he previously served as state superintendent from 2005 to 2011.

There are two ways to get more career-technical education to high school students, he said. One is the system he recently viewed in the Eastern Panhandle, where students are bused to the facilities of Blue Ridge Community and Technical College, including a lab for Proctor & Gamble at the college’s Berkeley Springs campus.

“That model works beautifully and is a model to uphold in those areas where those similar demographics exist,” Paine said.

Another model that he likes is used by Mountwest Community and Technical College in Wayne County. Paine said Mountwest officials go into the county’s three high schools to look at program standards and quality of teaching and then certify public school teachers to teach associate degree courses.

“I think the point that we really want to emphasize and want to really pursue is that we need to get kids engaged in that pathway to obtain an associate degree along with their high school diploma as soon as we possibly can,” he said.

Paine emphasized that the state school board wants county school districts to figure out what’s best for them in many ways.

“We have heard you loudly and clearly as a legislature and your leadership. We are clearly trying to push more flexibility to those local levels.” – Supt. Steve Paine

“We have heard you loudly and clearly as a legislature and your leadership,” he said. “We are clearly trying to push more flexibility to those local levels.” For example, he said, instead of funding RESA positions for special education, the board is allocating that money to the districts on a per-pupil basis. Districts can submit their plans for spending that money in line with their strategic strategies, he said.

West Virginia is waiting for approval from the U.S. Department of Education for a new accountability system under the Every Student Succeeds Act, Paine said. That plan would require districts to meet certain accountability measures to ensure they meet certain student achievement standards.

Schools see new problems resulting from the opioid crisis.

Paine said the state board has been trying to listen more to officials at the local level. When the board met not long ago in Monongalia County, members heard that the biggest problem in the public education system today is dealing with elementary school children who misbehave, he said, so some educators have asked for flexibility to create alternative school programs for those students. He said the reason misbehavior is such a problem is because children of opioid-addicted mothers have hit elementary school.

“We’re seeing behaviors that we’ve never seen before out of elementary school children.” – Supt. Steve Paine

“We’re seeing behaviors that we’ve never seen before out of elementary school children,” Paine said. The state board would like to use some of the money no longer being spent on RESAs to allocate to districts for the sole purpose of supporting victims of the opioid crisis, the kids born into addiction, he said.

“It is an enormous problem,” Paine said. He added that state education officials have consulted with Dr. Rahul Gupta, commissioner of the Bureau for Public Health, on the issue, but they don’t have a firm strategy to address it yet.

Asked about the Education Department’s wish list for about $5 million in new spending in the next fiscal year, Harless said the top priority is to get career-technical education credentialing for students. He said the second priority is for a one-time expenditure for the system of support and accountability.

Delegate Cindy Frich, R-Monogalia, suggested that addressing the problem of children of opioid-addicted parents also should be on the list. Paine agreed and suggested the department could redirect about $3 million had gone to the RESAs for that.

Another item on the priorities list that he pointed out is Communities in Schools, a program that has been in the Greenbrier County schools for a few years. “They’re producing a 100 percent graduation rate with students that are enrolled in that program, and we’d like to look at trying to scale that to other places,” he said. “It doesn’t directly address the opioid issue that we referred to, but it refers to those kids that could be affected by that issue.”

Credit recovery programs worry legislators.

Sen. Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, expressed concern about proliferation of credit recovery programs. He said kids who fail a class can take a short online class to earn the credit for the class. “I think that’s enabling a lot more kids to graduate,” he said. “I’m not sure it’s furthering their education.”

Paine responded, “It’s a strategy that most districts employ to try to capture kids who didn’t master the information the first go-round.” Sometimes it is done online, he said. Graduation rates were 89.4 percent this past year and 89.6 percent the year before, he said.

“So the efforts to focus on those graduation rates certainly has paid off,” Paine said. “Now, we need to make sure the kids that are graduating are college- and career-ready or ready for the workforce that awaits them in West Virginia.”

Paine agreed that student achievement increases have not accompanied the increase in graduation rates. There might have been a slight decrease last year in student achievement at the high school level, he said.

Credit recovery programs can be a good safety net for students to catch up, he said. Although it’s a good strategy, he said, he wouldn’t employ it as a primary strategy.

Palumbo said some kids use it as a crutch. They don’t do as well in classes because they know they can fall back on it, he said.

Paine promised to look into that. One way to prevent that is to have kids enter into career-technology programs earlier, he said. He would like students to be able to earn associate degrees by the time they graduate high school. They should be getting into those courses as early as their sophomore year, he said.

“I think the sooner we can engage kids in some meaningful direction the better off we are,” Paine said. He said he fears that some students go to four-year schools without knowing what they want to do, and then they can waste their first year in college.

Palumbo also expressed concern that the state board wants to reduce the number of credit-hours students need to graduate from high school from 24 to 21. He questioned the logic in that.

Paine replied that public comments are coming in two-to-one against lowering the requirements. Superintendents want more flexibility, so they have requested the change, he said.

“Increased local flexibility brings robust local accountability and responsibility.” – Supt. Steve Paine

“They are the ones that need to get out in front of this with their local communities and send the message that – and my message is clear – increased local flexibility brings robust local accountability and responsibility,” Paine said. The lower number of credits would be a minimum, he added, and districts should create programs based on the needs and interests of their communities.

Another proposed policy change he said is receiving many comments is to have uniformity in the grading scale with higher education. Comments are running six to one in favor of that, he said.

In regard to lowering the requirement for high school credits, Paine said research shows no difference in scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress between states with higher graduation credit requirements and those with lower requirements. West Virginia would be in the middle of the states if it would lower its requirement to 21 credits.

Palumbo suggested it might be better to reduce the number of credits for required courses but not the overall number of required credits.

Sen. Stollings, D-Boone, suggested West Virginia should implement the P-20 program in which the last two years of high school become the first two years of college. Paine said there is much interest in Tennessee’s program to provide free community college for all students. He then said West Virginia is equipped well to move forward with P-20 now, but it needs enabling legislation to allow high schools to issue associate degrees.

“We have all the equipment,” Paine said. “We have the instructors already in place at the CTE centers. And I’ll be very frank: We just need to figure out ways that we collaborate and participate together as opposed to looking at this as a turf issue.”

Delegate George Ambler, R-Greenbrier, added his voice to those who don’t like credit recovery programs. “We need to put emphasis on you have to pass the classes that you have,” he said. “That cuts down on absenteeism. It’ll cut down on discipline problems. I think we can cure several things by maybe restructuring what the school or the school day looks like on a statewide basis.”

“There’s a lot of reasons why graduation statistics went up, and I would venture to say that it wasn’t because of the quality of education the kids were given.” – Delegate George Ambler

Students who take online courses to recover credits must attain only 70 percent completion, Ambler said. “There’s a lot of reasons why graduation statistics went up, and I would venture to say that it wasn’t because of the quality of education the kids were given,” he said. “That high school diploma should not be cheapened.”

“We will take a hard look at this,” Paine promised. “They want that local flexibility, but again, I go back to increased local flexibility brings robust responsibility. They can easily set those graduation requirements well above the state minimum, and that’s what we expect them to do based on them working with their communities, based on what they desire to set and where they desire to set graduation requirements.”

By Jim Wallace

Legislators have been pushing for more local flexibility in the public education system. Officials from the Department of Education have been assuring legislators that they and the state school board are heeding the call. They have provided those assurances lately at two meetings of the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability.

For example, Clayton Burch, associate state superintendent, told legislators that the school board’s approval of Policy 3234 on the school calendar does that. He said the policy is a result of House Bill 2711, which the legislature approved early this year.

“This is quite a shift because for years, they’ve heard us talk about 180 days – 180 separate days of instruction,” Burch said. “It really shifted the conversation, and it shifted the conversation to: What do you do with time? And what are we really doing with time?”

Educators and principals asked for time to prepare for instruction, he said. Because of House Bill 2711, the state now has the ability to allow school districts to add five more development days into the calendar, as well as five equivalent days for weather emergencies, and still have the ability to use non-traditional instructional days for instruction, he said.

About the same time, Burch said, the board also made a transition in its professional development master plan to push local flexibility. Instead of listing the magnitude of offerings, the Education Department lists the process it is looking for, emphasizing time for educators to collaborate and how choices are made about what they need, he said.

“We are here for support; we are not here to dictate.” – Clayton Burch

“That puts the department in a much different position, which is reactive to the needs,” Burch said. “We are here for support; we are not here to dictate.”

Another example of the state’s granting more local flexibility, he said, is Policy 2510, Assuring Quality of Education: Regulations for Education Programs. Burch said the board listened to feedback from around the state.

“The bottom line is we learned our lessons from House Bill 2711,” he said. “We’ve learned a lesson from a lot of our shifts in professional learning: Pass as much flexibility and local control as we can, and with that does come accountability.”

House Education Chairman Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, welcomed those sentiments. “I appreciate your comments on the master plan for professional development,” he said. “As I expect you’re well aware, the House passed legislation last session, House Bill 2524, that would have really tried to step away from this state-centric master planning. It sounds, based on your comments that the board is very much moving in that direction as well.”

“That is absolutely a fair assessment,” Burch said. “The board has challenged us for the last year to two years to begin taking a careful look at that and stepping away from that master planning and supporting the local decisions for their plans.”

Espinosa said House Bill 2524 also would have underscored the role of the school principal, so he asked if the state board and Education Department expect to take other steps to strengthen the role of principals. Burch said that, as a result of the department’s reorganization, it has an office looking at leadership support and development. Part of that is reemphasis on principals as instructional leaders so they can make the best decisions possible at the building level, he said.

State board makes other policy changes.

Lou Maynus, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, explained other policy changes, including big ones in Policy 2510. She said it now provides for a Personalized Education Plan, which would begin in eighth grade and continue through grades nine and 10. At the end of ninth grade, students would complete their plans in preparation for grades 10 through 12, but those plans could be revised as needed.

Another change is to reduce social studies requirements from four credits to three. Maynus said students still would receive instruction in United States history and civics, but the third credit would be flexible.

Other changes she mentioned include:

  • The state-defined alternative diploma will be available this year in the ninth grade cohort. It will be awarded in the 2020-2021 school year.
  • The kindergarten early reporting system will require reporting just once at the end of the school year instead of twice.
  • ntegrated physical education has been added. It is a blended learning approach that combines the free, abbreviated online physical education course monitored by a special education teacher with a physically active credit-bearing elective course, such as show choir or dance, to fulfill the high school physical education credit requirement.
  • New language requires students to be enrolled in a mathematics course each year of high school.

Maynus said the board also is considering lowering the minimum high school graduation requirements from 24 credits to 21 credits. A typical student may earn up to 32 credits on a block schedule and up to 28 on a traditional schedule, she said. Requiring 17 prescribed credits should allow students to choose up to 15 personalized credits on a block schedule or 11 on a traditional schedule, she said.

“We definitely need to emphasize students’ learning about computer science and coding.” – Lou Maynus


Sen. Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, wondered why computer science is not required. He said he thought the state is giving it “a weak view.” Maynus agreed. She said she has learned more about the necessity of it in the past few months. “We definitely need to emphasize students’ learning about computer science and coding,” she said.

“We’ve got a real opportunity in this state to get back-office technology jobs,” Plymale said, noting that such a company in Huntington is going from 15 people to 150 people. “We’ve got to make sure that we’re feeding that pipeline into the colleges and community colleges for the future.”

Burch said the state board has another content policy covering computer science, but it doesn’t yet require students to earn a credit in computer science for graduation.

Another change from the state school board is Policy 2460, the Educational Purpose and Acceptable Use of Electronic Resources, Technologies and the Internet. Maynus said it sets forward regulations about safe and acceptable use of the internet, various digital resources and technology, compliance with e-rate guidelines and the reinforcement of copyright compliance.

West Virginia is among small number of states with statewide teacher evaluation systems.

On another subject, Michele Blatt, assistant superintendent in the Division of Support and Accountability, gave legislators an update on the statewide teacher evaluation system. She said the purpose is to promote professional growth, promote high standards, provide data on effectiveness as a basis for personnel decisions, provide data on education preparation programs and serve as a basis for professional learning needs of individual teachers. There are evaluation systems for teachers, counselors and principals, she said, and county school districts are responsible for implementation.

The system began as a pilot program in 2010 with 25 schools. House Bill 2246, which passed that year, spelled out stipulations of the evaluation system and the timeframe for implementing it statewide. In 2012-2013, it increased to 236 schools. Since 2013-2104, the system has been in effect across the state.

Blatt said nine states require districts to use statewide evaluation systems, 12 states allow districts to use state systems or develop their own, and 30 states require districts to develop their own systems based on certain criteria. In addition to West Virginia, the states that require statewide systems include: Alabama, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Washington.

In West Virginia, all evaluations start with self-reflection on the standards, Blatt said. They set student learning goals, decide strengths and weaknesses in their buildings and determine pre and post measures for student learning goals, she said. There is a summative rating at the end, she said. Thirty states have four levels of performance in their systems like West Virginia does.

There are plans to support continuous improvement, Blatt said. For example, she said, a Focus Support Plan between the evaluator and the person being evaluated is seen as a preventive, proactive step. State officials are refining West Virginia’s system with help from the Southern Regional Education Board and the Education Council, she said. That includes refining the rubrics used and refining the training that evaluators receive, she said.

Delegate Joe Statler, R-Monongalia, suggested it would be good for personnel evaluations to be shared among districts and wondered why it isn’t done. Blatt said that was discussed in 2010, but the new system was set up to be like the old system in which evaluations were housed in each district. It is designed to protect personnel, she said, but if a person were put on a corrective action plan, that information would follow the person from district to district.

This past school year, more than 3,000 teachers were evaluated as accomplished, 325 as distinguished, 292 as emerging and 11 as unsatisfactory in their overall evaluations, Blatt said. Espinosa said he would like to know how that compares to other states.

“It seems like a very, very small percentage are being rated as unsatisfactory,” he said. “If that’s accurate, I think that’s a good news story.”

Blatt responded that it might be possible to make comparisons, but only with the other states that have statewide evaluation systems.


Editor’s Note – Jim Wallace is a former government reporter for the Charleston Daily Mail, former news director of West Virginia Public Radio and former news director of WWVA/WOVK radio in Wheeling. He now works for TSG Consulting, a public relations and governmental affairs company with offices in Charleston and Beckley. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from The Ohio State University and a master’s degree in journalism from West Virginia University. Wallace is the author of the 2012 book,A History of the West Virginia Capitol: The House of State.