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Kanawha County's dropouts rise, Promise scholars decline

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Within a year's time, the number of dropouts in Kanawha County Schools has increased while the number of students who qualify for the state's Promise scholarship has decreased, according to data released by the Board of Education on Monday.

The district's ACT scores have mostly stayed the same, with students scoring an average composite of 20.9 for two years in a row. That number is on par with the national average and slightly higher than the state average, which has maintained at 20.6.

County ACT scores in English, math and science have slightly decreased, while reading scores stayed the same.

Total dropouts for Kanawha County Schools increased from 361 students during the 2011-12 school year to 395 students during the 2012-13 school year.

Promise scholars -- outgoing high school seniors who keep a 3.0 grade point average and score a 22 on the ACT -- have decreased from 378 to 367.

Kanawha County Schools produced more Promise scholars than any district in West Virginia, with George Washington High having the most by far at 103 students, and Sissonville High and Riverside High at the bottom with less than 20 scholars each.

However, Herbert Hoover, St. Albans and South Charleston high schools produced the highest number of Promise scholars that they have had in five years.

Kanawha County's standardized test scores continue to be above the state average, with 78 percent of the county's schools labeled as "success" or "transition" schools -- the highest rankings designated by the Department of Education under the state's new accountability system.

The state's unique system, which is free from No Child Left Behind laws of the past, provides more comprehensive data for educators, such as individual student growth and information on achievement gaps facing minority and poor students.

While Kanawha County Superintendent Ron Duerring praised the new system's trajectory data, which allows parents and teachers to foresee where students will be in the future if they continue at their current learning rate, some board members worried the information isn't enough.

School board member Bill Raglin said he wants to see more comprehensive data for the county's schools. For example, what do 395 dropouts really mean when compared to the overall student population?

There are 180 less dropouts in Kanawha County today than there were five years ago, but what affect does enrollment -- which is also declining -- have on those numbers, Raglin asked.

"This doesn't mean much. The numbers are larger naturally because we have the biggest district. We need to see percentages," Raglin said. "I'm worried about the 22 percent [of the county's schools that were deemed sub par by the Department of Education.]"

School board member Robin Rector said that while schools that have improved deserve recognition, the board needs to take a closer look to see a change.

"This data is really good, but we need to drill down this information," Rector said. "It's too difficult to have the discussions we need to have if we don't do that." Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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