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ESSA plan for WV schools submitted to feds

RYAN QUINN | Gazette-Mail file photo
The West Virginia Board of Education meets Friday in Morgantown.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice on Monday signed the state’s federal Every Student Succeeds Act compliance plan, including a new school labeling and accountability system, and the state Department of Education announced that it had been submitted to the federal Education Department.

The state said its federal counterpart now has 120 days to review the plan and provide feedback.

The submitted ESSA plan confirms what a document submitted to state Board of Education members suggested last week: the government has weakened the previously proposed efforts to reduce student suspensions.

In a version of the plan posted online last month, the state’s proposed behavior performance measure for schools was a school’s percentage of students with no out-of-school suspensions, while the planned attendance measure was a school’s percentage of students who were in attendance for at least 90 percent of school days.

The submitted version’s section on the attendance measure now says, “Exemptions will be made for absences resulting from out-of-school suspensions.”

The same behavior performance measure has survived from the draft version online last month to the submitted version, but it’s also been dialed back.

The earlier version exempted out-of-school suspensions for just Level 4 behavior, which includes battery against school employees and committing acts that would be felonies if adults did them, from counting against schools’ behavior measures. The submitted version also exempts Level 3 behavior, which includes sexual, racial and religious/ethnic harassment and violence.

“While out-of-school suspension is still an option within the consequences outlined in the policy, the State is promoting the use of alternative consequences in an effort to maximize student access to instruction,” the submitted ESSA plan states. “Therefore, the behavior measure that will be included in the Statewide Accountability System is the percent of students in each school that received zero out-of-school suspensions within a school year. Operationalized in this manner [sic] is believed to provide LEAs [local education agencies] and schools incentive to develop alternative, non-exclusionary approaches to discipline that keep students engaged in instruction.”

On Friday, the state school board approved an ESSA plan for submission to the federal government. However, education officials didn’t share a copy of the plan.

“No changes were made to the ESSA plan since Friday as a result of Governor Justice’s review,” education Communications Director Kristin Anderson wrote Monday in an email. “Governor Justice has been apprised of the plan throughout the summer and had no changes to the final version.”

The state Education Department’s announcement of the submission to the federal government came in a 4:55 p.m. news release Monday. The Gazette-Mail still is reviewing the changes between the earlier version of the plan and the submitted version.

“Several changes were incorporated into the final version of the plan as a result of stakeholder input,” the news release said. “Within the state’s accountability system, the five-year graduation cohort was included to accommodate those students who require additional time to graduate. The English Language Proficiency indicator was incorporated into the English language arts measure within the Academic Achievement indicator. The Student Success indicator, which considers attendance and behavior, now includes an exemption for all absences due to out-of-school suspensions and level three behavior violations are exempt from accountable suspensions. Summer School courses will be included within the high school Student Progress indicator, which considers credits earned toward graduation.”

The accountability system would use standardized tests, benchmark tests that can differ from county to county, high school graduation rates, attendance, behavior and other measures as the performance measures it would use to hold schools accountable.

Unlike the state’s discarded A-F accountability system, which gave those labels based largely on statewide standardized test scores, the accountability system reflected in the version of the ESSA plan that was online last month no longer would have the state assigning schools “summative” labels that combine performance measures, like standardized tests and graduation rates, into an overall performance label.

The state has planned four labels, from “unsatisfactory” up to “distinguished,” but they would be assigned to each performance measure separately so schools may have different labels in each measure.

However, ESSA, signed into law in December 2015, requires all states to assign certain federal labels to low-performing schools. But states get to define what “low-performing” means.

Reach Ryan Quinn at ryan.quinn@wvgazettemail.com, facebook.com/ryanedwinquinn, 304-348-1254 or follow @RyanEQuinn on Twitter.

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