Changes ahead for school’s Office of Education Performance Audits process

By April Jaynes

July 31, 2014

POINT PLEASANT — At a recent meeting of the Mason County Board of Education, an update on this year’s Office of Education Performance Audits (OEPA) and information about future changes to OEPA’s evaluation process was given.

Georgia Thorton, administrative assistant to the superintendent/curriculum director, presented the board with an update on this year’s results, as well as information about new polices that OEPA will implement for the upcoming school year evaluations and next year’s results.

“We should be able to get (this year’s) data back sometime by the end of September, and I will be able to get that right to you, and we can talk about that,” she said.

OEPA recently switched to an online system, which is the reason for this year’s delay in results, Thorton said.

One of the biggest upcoming changes in OEPA’s evaluation process is the change in designations that schools individually receive, Thorton said. The current designations are Success Schools, Transition Schools, Focus Schools, Support Schools and Priority Schools.

A school’s designation is determined once a year and is based on prior school year data, including WESTEST 2 results.

“For 2013/2014, the Focus Schools are going to remain the same, but the rest of our schools may or may not have a change in their designation. For 2014-15, the focus schools are going to remain focus schools, but all schools will now have a grade level. So it’s going to be easier to understand: A, B, C, D and F,” she said. “They will also still have a designation of ‘Focus School,’ at least until 2017. That won’t publicly be announced. It will just be reported to the feds. What will be announced is the (letter) grade.”

Thorton said Focus Schools are identified for a period of three years, which is why they will remain the same next year. Beale Elementary and Point Pleasant Intermediate School are currently Focus Schools, with Ashton Elementary, New Haven Elementary and Hannan High School currently identified as Transition Schools. Point Pleasant Junior/Senior School High School, Wahama High School and Roosevelt Elementary are currently identified as Success Schools. Leon Elementary was not designated, due to “invalid testing practice,” according to OEPA’s website.

The new designations to be implemented in the 2014/2015 evaluations are: A — Distinctive Student Proficiency; B — Commendable Student Proficiency; C — Acceptable Student Proficiency; D — Unacceptable Student Proficiency; and F — Lowest Student Proficiency.

“We’re going to look at the bottom 25 percent of our kids in every school, and we’re going to accelerate them, quickly,” Thorton said. “That’s why we don’t have to have focus schools as designations anymore. “

The new policy to be implemented involves six major characteristics, of which Thorton listed for board members. They include: improving student performance, clearly communicating the level of school quality, focusing on all schools, reviewing all schools, emphasizing local control and accountability and differentiating between supports, consequences and rewards.

“We believe that even if you’re a reward school, like Roosevelt, we still have a possibility of improvement,” she said. “I think that what we need to think about is how we you going to define excellence for our kids.”

Thorton also discussed the changes in the way that the evaluations will be conducted.

“We’re putting together teams that are going to go into our schools once a month, and we’ll look at their data with them and discuss any problems or issues that they had. Then they will bring those kinds of things up when they come every month and talk to (the board.) We’re also going to look at their school’s strategic plans, and then anything that OEPA finds, we’re definitely going to work with them to fix,” she said. “One of the biggest pieces that you’re going to see — and I think the teachers are going to really like — is the movement toward school-based professional learning. Who else better to determine — based on their needs — what kinds of things they need to learn about, but that school? So that’s going to be our big push. This will probably be the last year we have a county back-to-school professional learning day, set up at the central office. It’s going to be handed over to the schools, and they’re going to be accountable. We’re going to be able to pick and choose what kinds of things are going to work for them and really work on that.”

Thorton said differentiating support based on specific school needs —and successes — is what the evaluations will primarily emphasize.

“Some of our schools are going to need very different things. If we have a school at C level and a few at A, the Cs are probably going to need a little bit more help,” she said. “OEPA’s going to give us our feedback. They’re going to talk to us about our strengths and weaknesses. They’re also really interested — and they talked a lot to our principals about this — in best practices, what kinds of things are you doing that are excellent that we can applaud you for and actually talk about you throughout the state. We do really have some phenomenal things going on. I think we’re used to OEPA being as someone who slaps us, and now they’re really trying to change the face of that.”

Concerning the school system assessment, if all schools are at C-level grade, the system will receive at full approval. If one school falls below a C-level grade, the system will receive temporary approval status and the opportunity to improve. If the school does not improve, the system will receive a conditional spproval status, Thorton said.

Additionally, a non-approvable status can be issued.

“Non-approvable status basically is that there is pervasive and consistent poor performance, across the school system, or conditions that threaten health, safety, educational quality of students or fiscal solvency. So we have to balance our budgets within the school system. So, those things can get you non-approval status, and that’s why I know you work so hard to keep your budget balanced as a county system.”

Thorton also said there is the option for state board to take action, which can involve removing the school’s principal or giving the principal help, which it’s usually somebody that the state chooses.

“But the problem with that is that the county ends up having to pay the salary for them (the principal’s help,)” she said. “Those have happened before. They’ve happened in a county nearby — five at once, so that’s out there. And the principals understand that, so that’s why they’re working really hard to make sure everything stays as good as it already is and just gets better.”

Thorton said she expects the Mason County system to receive a full approval status and not have any major problems.

“This year, another piece that’s interesting in the policy is that this year, for the first time, the county strategic plan will be brought to (the school board) for your consideration and approval. We do not have a date for that yet. Normally it’s Oct. 1, but because of our lateness on our test scores, it’s probably going to be pushed a little later than that. So you’ll expect to see that soon. We’ll be talking about goals based around our data, what your ideas of excellence are, and your expectations of what you think we need to be doing,” Thorton said.

Superintendent Suzanne Dickens said the strategic plans will be a collaborative effort.

“We’ll bring my goals into it, and your goals and their goals into it. We’ll roll them all together,” she said. “They should look pretty similar. We should all be working towards the same thing.”