8 Wood schools identified as Focus Schools

PARKERSBURG – Last week the West Virginia Board of Education identified 97 schools in the state with the greatest learning gaps among student groups, designated Focus Schools.

On Thursday, Wood County Schools Superintendent Pat Law informed board of education members that Blennerhassett, McKinley, Vienna and Worthington elementary schools and Blennerhassett, Edison, Hamilton and VanDevender middle schools have been designated Focus Schools.

The focus schools designation is part of West Virginia’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Flexibility Request which includes waivers of certain provisions of the ESEA, also known as the No Child Left Behind Act.

Schools in Jackson County (Gilmore Elementary, Ripley Elementary and Ripley Middle); Roane (Geary Elementary/Middle and Spencer Middle) and Doddridge County Middle were the only other schools in the area tabbed as Focus Schools.

Law said to provide support to focus schools, a Focus Assistance Support Team (FAST) will be created on the state, regional and county levels. The FAST teams will conduct an assessment of student subgroup strengths and weaknesses to target during the three-year improvement timeline.

If a focus school can decrease the gap between student subgroups for two consecutive years and show sufficient progress, it can be transitioned off the list.

Vienna Elementary was recognized as a school of excellence. It is now considered a Focus School based on its subgroups compared against the allgroup. Law said the gap between the two was too wide. It takes 20 kids to qualify as a subgroup, such as socioeconomic, minorities and special education groups.

John Merritt, director of federal programs for Wood County Schools, said Wood County only meets two subgroups in most schools; students with disabilities and low socioeconomic status subgroup.

McKinley is another Focus School. It has a near-90 percent population on free and reduced lunch. Because of this Law said the school has an allgroup of only about 30 students. That small of allgroup can have a powerful effect on the testing gaps, he said.

“It works differently for each school,” Law said.

In West Virginia, the state will back off the old system, where schools either did or did not make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). The state is putting together a system with different levels; priority, support, focus, transition and success schools. Merritt said the new methodology is progressing growth; tracking where achievement from the beginning of the year to the end.

“Did students achieve throughout the year,” he said.

In May, West Virginia was granted a waiver from the No Child Left Behind law in favor of its own school improvement plan. The waivers also allow states to come up short on requirements that all students perform at grade level in math and reading by 2014

Education officials have already flagged 32 schools across the state as “priority schools,” meaning they have persistently low test scores and will receive “extra resources and funds to improve.”

Last month Jefferson and Franklin were identified as Priority Schools. Priority schools are presently among the lowest performing in the state and rank among the lowest 5 percent of Title I schools. The two Wood County schools were the only schools in the area identified as Priority Schools.

Merritt said the fact schools have been identified as a Focus and Priority Schools should not be a concern.

“It’s all about helping kids,” he said. ” We are trying to bring in assistance to help these subgroups. The goal is to reduce the gap.”