Education Blogs
"The WVBOE Audit Response: Our Point of View"
12 Dec 2012
Blog Post

The Education Alliance commends the West Virginia Board of Education (WVBOE) for prioritizing student learning in its “From Audit to Action” response. While the WVBOE’s comments are detailed and thoughtful, we believe the response should also include how  students will  measurably benefit from recommendations  and  how the WVBOE will prioritize and work with others (agencies, local school boards, Local School Improvement Councils,  faith communities, business community, etc.) to improve factors that profoundly impact student learning in West Virginia — teen pregnancy; gaps in students’  pre-school readiness associated with income, gender or ethnicity; children living in dysfunctional home environments; and children living in poverty.  Addressing these real challenges will benefit current students and future generations of West Virginia students.


While the Education Efficiency Audit aimed to “produce the best outcomes for West Virginia students and ensure West Virginia receives the highest return on the educational dollars it spends,” the WVBOE’s response can add the additional dimensions of measurable accountability and advocacy for addressing community and family challenges that significantly impede student learning. The following details The Education Alliance’s position.


Measurable Student Benefits.


The Efficiency Audit addresses student benefits in a general manner, but the WVBOE has an opportunity to articulate the improved student outcomes it expects from its recommendations. Currently, the WVBOE focuses on what educators will do and receive without identifying for the public and itself the measurable student benefits. The Education Alliance believes the Call to Action must articulate the relationship between Call to Action responses and measurable student outcomes. 


We specifically encourage the WVBOE to state how its audit responses will measurably improve or increase the following: student test scores on state or national assessments; grade-level retentions; enrollment in rigorous mathematics and science courses; the percentage of third-grade students achieving mastery or above in reading/language arts by the end of third grade; high school completion rates; etc.


Clear connections between proposed actions and improved student outcomes provide powerful and transparent accountability. Additionally, student outcomes, whether short-, intermediate- or long-term, would provide compelling evidence that the Board’s recommendations are on target. This strategy also will allow the WVBOE to evaluate how effectively its decisions improved students’ short- intermediate- and long-term outcomes.


Community and Family Challenges.


Our second comment focuses on the Call to Action’s need to acknowledge specific challenges that many West Virginia students endure daily.  While these challenges were not mentioned in the Efficiency Audit, they are realities that profoundly impact a student’s ability to learn.


Specifically, these major challenges are West Virginia’s teen pregnancy rate; student truancy; student achievement gaps based on income, gender or ethnicity that students bring to their pre-school experience; children living in dysfunctional home environments; and children living in poverty.  Each of these profoundly affects student learning; curriculum; instructional time; teacher effectiveness; the educational quality of a classroom, school or county; and the accessibility, availability, and usefulness of educational technology.


Teen pregnancy. Consider the following: West Virginia’s birth rate for females between the ages of 15 and 19 increased by 17 percent between 2007 and 2009. Nationally, the teen birth rate fell by 8 percentA child’s chances of growing up in poverty are nine times greater if the child is born to an unmarried teen without a high school diploma. If teen pregnancy rates continue to increase, the burdens on schools, social service systems, and communities are likely to threaten the economic and social vitality of many West Virginia communities. If the WVBOE works with others to reduce teen pregnancy rates, it would reduce child poverty rates, reduce the need for social services associated with being a teen parent, and increase the likelihood fewer students will drop out of high school because of teen pregnancy.


Poverty and Dysfunction. There is an abundance of research that shows children growing up in poverty (56 percent of West Virginia students receive a free or reduced-priced lunch); children born with significant exposure to drugs or alcohol (one in five West Virginia children is born with significant exposure to drugs or alcohol); or children who live with  “toxic stress” (stress that is severe, sustained and not buffered by supportive relationships, e.g., living with a parent who is depressed or absent, high mobility and homelessness, food instability or hunger, domestic violence, etc.) lag behind middle-class peers or peers from stable homes in terms of vocabulary skills; comprehension skills; social skills; and self-regulation skills even as they begin the schooling process before kindergarten.


The Importance of Third Grade. The implications of not addressing family and community challenges are far reaching, making it virtually impossible for the aforementioned students to reach critical academic benchmarks, e.g., third-grade reading proficiency. Reading proficiency by the end of third grade is so important that many states have recently enacted policies that retain students in third grade if they do not meet or exceed the reading benchmark. These states also provide students with expanded learning time and other support from pre-kindergarten through third grade. WESTEST2 results indicate marked disparities as early as third grade between students on free or reduced lunch and other students. However, the WVBOE’s Call to Action does not include any recognition of the third-grade reading benchmark or disparities in student performance associated with ethnicity, income, or gender. Despite the research on third-grade reading and the increasing number of West Virginia children born into or living with challenges that will greatly lessen their ability to achieve the third-grade reading benchmark, their realities are not reflected in the WVBOE’s Call to Action.


Courageous Conversations


We want to reiterate that The Education Alliance believes the community and  family challenges  we’ve noted — teen pregnancy; student truancy; poverty; drug and alcohol exposure;  and toxic stress — must be  solved with the  involvement of others.  However, this will only happen if the WVBOE assigns a high priority to working on these issues, collaboratively and ceaselessly. The WVBOE can inspire leaders to cooperate so the state of West Virginia makes helping its most vulnerable populations a state priority.  One example of this is the work currently underway at community and state levels to improve student truancy rates. 


As uncomfortable as the realities are, the WVBOE’s Call to Action must acknowledge and reflect what we know to be true about West Virginia’s student population, even if the Efficiency Audit did not.  Too many West Virginia students live in situations that disadvantage them educationally through no fault of their own. Let it be said that these students’ chances of success in life were strengthened because of the education they received in West Virginia communities and public schools.


Compelling evidence already shows that family and community impediments to academic success can be minimized if addressed early and comprehensively. The earlier and more comprehensive the intervention, the higher the probability the desired student benefits will be realized.  At-risk students exist in every county and need at least 180 days of high quality instruction. Expanded learning opportunities — after school and/or summer programs — can help minimize academic disparities and help break the cycles of poverty and teen parenthood. 


The WVBOE has an opportunity to model for local school boards and the public how recommendations translate into measurable benefits for students, not just fiscal efficiency.  Incorporating information about the daily family and community-related challenges facing many West Virginia children informs public dialogue about education and creates an environment for meaningful collaboration among students, educators, community and business leaders, policy makers, and citizens. 


Children do not choose their families, nor do they have the power to change their living circumstances. Children depend on thoughtful, informed adults to create pathways to success. If the adults are successful, current student achievement patterns will be a memory instead of our current and tragic reality.