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School Leaders Focus On Many Improvements

By Staff | Aug 29, 2012

Wetzel County Superintendent of Schools Diane Watt say focusing on the remaining deficiencies found in the the recent follow up audit report from the Office of Education Performance Audits does not show the whole picture of how Magnolia and Paden City high schools are improving.

The follow-up audits conducted at the schools in April 2012, after both schools received negative reviews following initial audits in March 2011, cited five remaining deficiencies for MHS and three for PCHS.

“We worked so hard,” said Magnolia High School Principal Kathi Schmalz. “We’ve made such great strides.”

“We’ll certainly take their recommendations and try to improve,” noted Watt, who added that she didn’t think reports of the audit gave a clear picture of the schools. She said the teachers cited as not teaching the entire allotted class time have great test scores. Watt said the OEPA audit represents a snapshot of the schools on one day of instruction. A truer picture would include what happens the other 179 days, she said.

“What we have is a group of people working hard and doing the best we can,” said Schmalz. She was recently pleased with the ACT scores of Magnolia students who scored above the state on every subject.

“This is the Super Bowl. This is the big game,” said Schmalz of their test scores. She is particularly proud of their ACT scores as they are a national standard designed to show college readiness.

Those scores listed in the order of MHS, state, and national are as follows: English, 22.0, 20.6, 20.5; math, 19.7, 19.6, 21.1; reading, 21.4, 21.3, 21.3; science, 20.6, 20.5, 20.9; composite, 21.1, 20.6, 21.1. Those MHS scores also show improvement from their own 2011 scores. That comparison, from last year to this year is as follows: English, 20.6, 22.0; math, 19.6, 19.7; reading, 21.3, 21.4; science, 20.5, 20.6; composite, 20.6, 21.1.

These meet ACT’s benchmark scores in English and reading, 18 and 21, respectively, but fall short of the benchmark scores in mathematics and science, 22 and 24. ACT says a benchmark score is the minimum score needed on an ACT subject-area test to indicate a 50 percent chance of obtaining a B or higher or about at 75 percent chance of obtaining a C or higher in corresponding credit-bearing college courses.

Schmalz further said she is proud of the advanced courses at MHS as they have worked over the past few years to offer more challenging curriculum in Advanced Placement Chemistry, English, Calculus, and Government. All of those classes are full this year. They also offer several dual college credit courses and those are also full. Further, all freshmen and sophomores are offered honors classes in all four core areas; all of those classes are full.

However, the OEPA audit showed concern for the special education subgroup that tested zero percent proficient in both mathematics and reading/language arts on the 2010-11 WesTest. Watt said she can only believe that something unusual must have happened to make the scores so low. The 2011-12 WesTest scores that came out Thursday showed them at 36.36 percent proficient in both areas. “That’s an example of how hard those teachers have worked,” noted Watt. She said that in education an increase of three percent is the norm and anything above three percent is noteworthy.

Even if the 2010-11 figures are disregarded as a fluke, the new results are an improvement. On the 2009-10 WesTest where 11.76 percent of that subgroup were proficient in mathematics and 17.64 percent proficient in reading/language arts. On the 2008-09 WesTest 10 percent were proficient in both areas.

The report did note the increase in WesTest2 proficiencies from the 2009-10 to 2010-11 years in other categories of students. In mathematics the increases were as follows: all students, 19.32 percent; white students, 19.96 percent; and economically disadvantaged students, 13.88 percent. In reading/language arts the increases were as follows: all students, 24.91 percent; white students, 23.71 percent; and economically disadvantaged students, 23.36 percent.

In response to the finding that neither of Magnolia’s two guidance counselors was spending 75 percent of the work day in direct counseling with the students, Watt said the numbers do not reflect reality. According to the audit, one counselor met with students approximately 35 percent of the time and the other met with students less than 10 percent of the time. She said she “absolutely believes they are putting in more than 10 and 35 percent.

“I think the perception is not correct,” stated Watt. She said the counselors spend an exorbitant amount of time working with students; they simply need to ensure a consistent documentation of their work. They have been trained on a new computer-based system for documentation that will be easier for the administration and counselors to track their time. “It should be less labor intensive for them,” said Watt.

While the OEPA found some improvements in the physical education of Magnolia students, they still expressed concern over the lack of participation in physical education classes. “I truly feel the staff at Magnolia High School encourages the students to be active,” countered Watt.

Schmalz said they have recreated the syllabus and expect participation. In fact, she spoke with students about their expectations in an assembly at the beginning of this school year. They have created an unlocked locker for students who forget or don’t have the needed clothing and shoes for gym class. These can be obtained discretely and then they are washed for the next needed use.

“We’re trying to not opt for any excuse to not take physical education,” explained Schmalz. Students must have a parent or doctor’s excuse to sit out of gym class.

As for the audit’s citation that “hydrochloric acid and methanol were easily within student range and could be removed from the chemistry room without the knowledge of the teacher”, Schmalz said it was simply a mistake of the chemicals being left out after class. They now have a check-in and -out system for the chemicals that includes double locks.

In regard to Paden City High School’s three remaining deficiencies, Watt said the issue of a lack of appropriate lesson plans is being addressed. Principal Jay Salva is collecting the lesson plans weekly and working with the county office to look them over to determine if they are appropriate – specifically able to be followed by a substitute teacher and indicate West Virginia 21st Century content standards and objectives (CSOs).

Watt said that while the OEPA felt serving as student office aides at PCHS was a good experience, they noted that there was no direct instruction and no CSOs being addressed through the use of office aides. “That’s already been corrected,” said Watt.

The graduation rates still managed to be a concern for the staff at PCHS, but the OEPA found that the school had begun a variety of programs and practices to increase the rate and believed that with continuing these programs, the graduation rate would increase.

Watt reported to the board at their last meeting that on Sept. 5, a representative from the OEPA will be observing both PCHS and MHS. Watt, herself, will be reporting to the OEPA on Sept. 5; this fall, there is expected to be another team evaluating both high schools.

Both reports state that each school has “Conditional Accreditation status with a January 15, 2013, date certain to correct the remaining findings.” The OEPA report adds for Magnolia, “If the noncompliances are not corrected by the Date Certain, the school will be recommended for Low Performing status and the ensuing consequences.”