Only 18.5 percent of West Virginia's 15-year olds in 2009 were proficient in math, according to the Program for international Student Assessment. That put the Mountain State on a par with Bulgaria. Only Alabama, New Mexico and Mississippi had worse standings.
Just 18 percent of this state's 8th-graders in 2009 were proficient in math, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Only Alabama and Mississippi ranked worse. And just 3 percent of West Virginia eighth-graders were advanced in math. No state had a lesser percentage.
As for student academic readiness for college through the ACT exam, state students tested 13 percentage points below the national average in math, and 6 points below in science.
In 2008, the Legislature had a "vision" that by 2020, student achievements in West Virginia would exceed international and national averages on these three tests, PISA, NAEP, and ACT. The Legislature's "vision" was more akin to fantasy and utopianism.
National appraisals of the state's public school system are no better than our student test scores. The appraisals (1) ranked our students 49th in science and engineering readiness, ahead of only Mississippi; (2) gave the state an F in K-12 achievement with only one state ranked lower; and (3) graded the state as D in teacher quality.
The state's science standards were described as "a confusing and unsatisfactory hodgepodge" by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.
West Virginia's obstacles to significant improvement in student achievement and national appraisals are formidable, and we should not delude ourselves by believing otherwise. There are far more bases for pessimism than optimism when we consider our public school predicament forthrightly without political gloss.
The state's public school system is gigantic, intricate, intimidating, controversial, intractable, and is perceived by many as unalterable.
The school system is like quicksand giving a sinking sensation to those who try to understand it, much less reform it, and repels reform initiators and drains the spirit of those who would try.