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Kanawha students to start the 2012 school year Aug. 17

By Davin White
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Students will begin school in Kanawha County next year on Friday, Aug. 17, after county school board members unanimously approved the 2012-2013 academic calendar at a meeting Tuesday afternoon.Students will have three weekdays off during Thanksgiving week, eight weekdays at Christmas and six weekdays for spring break, unless snow days cut the break one day short. The last day of school for students is scheduled for May 24, unless snow days push the last day closer to June.  Carol Thom, who coordinates the calendar for Kanawha County Schools, said many teachers like to start school on a Friday to get the rules and procedures over and done. That way, they can comfortably start in on curriculum the following Monday.Spring break begins Easter weekend (March 30-31) and continues into the first week of April.Kanawha teachers had a chance to review the new calendar early in the year, Thom said, when school officials considered moving the start date back more than an extra week in August. They did not vote on the calendar, however.  Also Tuesday, Kanawha school board members looked more in depth at results from last spring's WESTEST 2 standardized exam. Students took the exam in May, and most showed significant growth in reading and modest improvement in math.In most math categories on the WESTEST 2 -- with the exception of eighth-graders -- individual students showed growth from last year's test to this year's.For instance, Kanawha administrators looked at one fifth-grader's scores for 2009-2010 and compared them to his sixth-grade scores this year.In reading, many students saw double-digit improvement from 2010 to 2011.   
Still, board members and Bill Mullett, director of counseling and testing for Kanawha County Schools, talked about a disparity between the math scores of white and black students.This growing difference -- commonly referred to as the "achievement gap" -- is "just not acceptable," board member Bill Raglin said.For instance, more than one in three Kanawha County ninth-grade students performed at the proficient level in math on the WESTEST 2. But among black students, fewer than one in five reached proficiency.Raglin wants school officials to look more in depth at data to see where the problems lie. He noted that black students are doing well and "many parents in the African-American community don't like" their children to be labeled with a broad brush.In particular, he wants to look at the scores of black students who transfer for athletic purposes.Superintendent Ron Duerring said that Kanawha County began narrowing the achievement gap between white and black students during the first WESTEST. In 2009, state officials created the more challenging WESTEST 2 exam that measures critical thinking and higher-order skills.
"All of a sudden we bottomed out again," Duerring said. "[We] don't have an explanation for it at this time."Still, in reading, most black students in Kanawha County showed either the same growth rate or a greater rate of improvement on the WESTEST 2 when compared to all students.     Also, special education teachers found the results on the WESTEST 2 "really discouraging," Mullett said, as most students with disabilities performed worse in both reading and math.Reach Davin White at or 304-348-1254.
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