CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Summers County High School has been named by the West Virginia Department of Education as a "priority school." To receive federal Title I funds, the department is required to have a plan to increase test scores.
The plan is to give assistance to schools that score in the bottom 5 percent for three years. In the case of Summers County High, only the 11th-grade scores on the language arts and math sections of the WESTEST are considered. Those scores have been in the bottom 5 percent for the past two years; however, in 2009-10, the reading score was 19th in the state and the math score was 33rd in the state.
In 2009-10, Summers County was one of six counties in the state that made "Adequate Yearly Progress." The other five were Gilmer, Pleasants, Pocahontas, Tyler and Wirt. In 2010-11, no county in West Virginia made AYP. In 2011-12, only Tyler County made it.
The mission statement of Summers County Schools is to "involve the total community in preparing each citizen to enter the workforce, college or other postsecondary training and in developing them to their fullest potential as active, self-directed, lifelong learners." The 11th-grade language arts and math scores on the WESTEST are not a good way to measure the success of this mission.
The ACT test is required for admission to most colleges. Of the 119 high schools in West Virginia, Summers County High ranked 25th on the 2012 ACT test.
Of the Career Technical Education students (previously called vocational students) in 2012-13, 89 percent of the completers passed their end of course exam with 100 percent passage for e-business publishing, health occupations science technology and pro-start restaurant management. Of the previous year's graduates who were CTE completers, 94 percent were positively placed either in a career or were furthering their education.
Nevertheless, we want our students to score well on the WESTEST. When the scores came in August, curriculum director Sarah Brown did her own investigation. She interviewed the first-semester 11th-grade language arts students individually. She listened to each one read and had them answer a question about the passage. She found that 100 percent could read. Then she asked them if they did their best on the WESTEST. Only 24 percent indicated strongly that they had tried to do their best. When asked what would encourage them to try harder, 63 percent said rewards, consequences or more help in skills.
Therefore, we came to the conclusion that the students were performing poorly either because they weren't trying their best or because they needed more instruction in basic skills.
In order to provide an incentive to correct the problem, the Summers County High faculty senate wrote a new exam exemption policy stating that mastery of any subject on the WESTEST will exempt the student from taking the final exam in that subject.
Also, Principal Josh Houchins has made changes in next year's schedule. Students will be scheduled for a seven-period day instead of the current block scheduling. In block scheduling, half of the students are given language arts and math classes during the fall semester. This will ensure that all students will be taking language arts and math classes when the WESTEST is given in May. Another change for next year is that all students who master the WESTEST will be given an enrichment class. All students who don't master the WESTEST will be given extra help on the specific skills they lack.
The state department is sending a team to spend a day at Summers County High to offer suggestions. We will certainly welcome any assistance they can give us.
If you have questions, concerns or would like to review the data, feel free to stop by the Summers County Board of Education at 116 Main St., Hinton. We are open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Hinerman is superintendent of Summers County Schools.