West Virginia Education Updates and Initiatives: Science of Reading, Bullying Prevention, and Funding

2023-12-11 06:52:24

photo by: W.Va. Legislative Photography

West Virginia Sen. Charles Clements, R-Wetzel, speaks during a legislative interim meeting Sunday in Charleston.

WHEELING — The West Virginia Senate’s Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability received an update on the state’s new science of reading program and other matters during a committee meeting held Sunday in Charleston.

The meeting was broadcast live via the West Virginia Legislature website.

Sonya White, deputy superintendent of the West Virginia Department of Education, said schools’ first fall benchmark tests were held. Children in kindergarten through third grades who hit the mark for needing literacy intervention will likely improve on the next round of testing this winter. This is because the screening tests include items they have not yet learned this year.

White noted the same goes for mathematics testing. The testing includes questions on items they have not yet learned but will during the year.

“And there are learning gaps because of the pandemic,” she added.

White said her department is receiving calls from other states about its new science of reading program, aka House Bill 3035. The bill, also known as the Third Grade Success Act, requires the state Board of Education to develop screeners and benchmark assessments in English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics for K-3 students. It also requires a multi-tiered support system for students showing substantial reading or math deficiencies to ensure students are proficient in those subjects before advancing past third grade.

The state Legislature passed the bill during the 2023 session.

White noted there is online professional development for teachers to access. She also said her department would also like funding for a pilot program to create a formal science of reading teacher training program. She said they would also like more math coaches and additional money for the math program.

Also, Jeff Kelley, officer of Accountability and Assessment for West Virginia Department of Education, gave a harassment, intimidation and bullying report. He said during the 2022-23 school year there were about 156,000 misbehaviors logged by students across the state. The behavior is wide-ranging from harassment to bullying, fighting, and intimidation. Depending on the severity of the behavior students received in-school or out of school suspensions or detentions.

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Kelley noted interventions are helping students and there is data supporting that. Some schools are being more proactive and teaching students what behavior is expected of them in the classroom.

“Some counties are teaching, ‘What is bullying and what does it look like?’” he added.

Meanwhile, Micah Whitlow, director of Schools Facilities for West Virginia Department of Education, talked about a survey of 688 schools, including alternative and vocational schools, in the state. She said schools requested in total about $174 million in safety and security measures.

Also, Brian Weingart, senior director of Financial Aid at the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, talked about various grant programs offered in the state. He noted the requirements for the Promise Scholarship have not changed.

He said another popular program is the West Virginia Education Grant. He said 80% of the students who use the grant program come from families who earn $60,000 or less per year.

A nursing scholarship program also has additional money in it thanks to federal Cares Act funding.

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