Stephen Wotring, part-time interim superintendent for Upshur County Schools, speaks at the Sept. 5 Upshur County Board of Education meeting. / Photo by Katie Kuba

‘Some good news, some not-so-good news’: Administrator delves into Upshur Schools’ achievement data, improvement plan

TENNERTON – Central Office administrators will conduct a series of meetings at each of Upshur County’s nine public schools to analyze testing data in hopes of boosting achievement outcomes for the 2023-2024 school year.

At the Sept. 5 Upshur County Board of Education meeting, Stephen Wotring, part-time interim superintendent, delivered a presentation on the administration’s plan to assist schools in hopes of ameliorating the district’s below-average – and in some cases, very low – achievement data.

Wotring stepped into the interim role in the immediate aftermath of the West Virginia Board of Education’s takeover of Upshur County Schools until Christy Miller was tapped as the official superintendent as of July 1, 2023. Wotring continues to work out of the Central Office several days a week.

“I have spent much of that time looking at the data that we have – our achievement data – and trying to make sense of all of that and where we are,” Wotring said. “People [during the public comment portion of the meeting] have talked tonight about vision and priorities, and I think this is an absolutely excellent place to start with that.”

He directed board members’ attention to the results of Upshur County Schools’ 2023 Spring Assessment, or the West Virginia General Summative Assessment, saying the numbers represented the percentage of students who were proficient in a particular area. Beginning with English Language Arts, or ELA, Wotring said Washington District Elementary School in Tallmansville is the highest-performing school in ELA with a 44.8 percent proficiency level.

“Now, that’s good news that they’re the highest performing district; the bad news is that we’re still below even 50 percent of our students being proficient,” he said.

The lowest-performing school in ELA in Spring 2023 was Hodgesville Elementary School, with just 23.3 percent of students proficient in ELA.

“When you move to math, our schools were higher on the top end, but they’re also lower on the bottom end,” Wotring said.

While Tennerton Elementary School emerged as the highest-performing school in mathematics, with 48.6 percent of students proficient in that area, Buckhannon-Upshur High School had the lowest percentage of students proficient in math. However, Wotring said the high school’s lagging percentage indicates a system-wide problem.  

“Our lowest was the high school at 14.8 percent, but in saying that, our proficiency at the high school isn’t the result of Grade 11,” Wotring said. “It’s a result of grades pre-K through 11, and our students didn’t just become not proficient in the 11th grade, so I think we have to look at the system as a whole and look at what we’re doing with mathematics and reading and look at building our foundational skills.”

Wotring also provided county and state average proficiency percentages for each grade level in his report. He discussed ELA first.

“I’ve listed all of the schools by grade level from the top-performing school to the bottom-performing school, and then I put those into quartiles so you can see where we fit, and basically, most of our scores in ELA (English Language Arts) are in that second quartile in the 26 to 50 [percent proficient] range with a bright spot in grade five of Washington District scoring 57.1 percent proficient, which was our highest in ELA.”

Union Elementary School’s third-grade students scored the lowest in ELA, with 11.8 percent considered proficient.

“But you can see that the state average for the entire state of West Virginia is 43.6 percent, so obviously, this is a statewide issue, and the state is really putting forth an effort in the science of reading and really working on that, so that will become one of our priorities as well,” Wotring said.

In mathematics, one grade at a county elementary school had the lowest proficiency in math, with 11.1 percent.

“As we look into mathematics, again, the bulk of our scores are in that second quartile, but we did have more in the bottom quartile, with our lowest math score being 11.1 percent, which is at fifth grade at Hodgesville,” Wotring said. “But we also had four different grade levels at our different schools that were above the 50 [percent proficiency] … so there’s some good news and some not-so-good news.”

Wotring said the state average for math is only 35.2 percent proficient.

“That means that 65 percent of students in the state of West Virginia right now are not proficient in math, so we have lots of work to do,” he said. “But what I always say is, this is ground zero – this is our place to start; we’ve been through COVID, and everyone can say what they want about that and how much we’ve lost during COVID, but it’s time to hit the ground running.”

Wotring has scheduled data meetings at each of the nine schools.

“We will be going out four times during the year, and we will be breaking down the data and looking at benchmark data,” he said. “We will be looking at i-Ready scores that we’re using in up through eighth grade at all of our schools, and then we’ll be looking at the program at the high school which is IXL to look at their data to see what our predictors for success are in 2024’s assessment.”

Wotring said the information he’s compiled has been sent to the state for inclusion in its 2023 Balanced Scorecard, which the W.Va. Department of Education released Wednesday. Data specific to Upshur County may be found here.

“In the meantime, I’ve worked to set all of the targets, meaning that in 2024, each grade level, each subgroup, each school, they will have a target for where they should be when they take the Spring Assessment,” Wotring said. “So, when I go out for our first data meeting, I will be sharing those targets with every single school.”

Goals will be set for principals regarding how they can best facilitate students attaining improved proficiency.

The next regular Upshur County Board of Education meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 10, in the Buckhannon-Upshur High School Auditorium.

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