BUCKHANNON — Two parents expressed concern with low special education reading proficiency scores in Upshur County Schools.
At a recent board of education meeting, it was reported Upshur County’s reading proficiency for students with disabilities is 8.83 percent compared to the state average of 15.60 percent. The state target is 39.90 percent.
Rachel Batchelor addressed the Upshur County Board of Education during their regular meeting Tuesday.
“I’m very concerned about reading,” Batchelor said. “My daughter has delays in language and her reading. My biggest question is what is the assessment data that goes into calculating the reading proficiency by the state?”
Superintendent Roy Wager said that special education students take the state assessment test unless they are unable to physically complete it.
“If a child can’t talk or is immobile, then there is a separate test they take,” Wager said. “It is scored differently from the regular test, but the test results for those students are added in.”
Wager also said some students may have accommodations made for them to take the test based on their Individualized Education Program.
Batchelor asked, “What are we as a county doing to address the poor reading proficiency we have in special education?”
Wager replied, “We are working with special education teachers. We are working with regular education teachers also, because we are trying to get most of our students into the regular classroom so they are exposed to the same content standards.”
Batchelor said, “I’m very concerned about reading, and even reading in general ed.”
Wager replied, “We are concerned too.”
Wager said one issue is that the state has frequently switched assessment tests, and the data can’t be compared directly because the tests ask questions in different ways.
The superintendent said there is now talk about doing away with the Smarter Balance assessment.
“So, now we are going to be adjusting our teaching to whatever the new test is,” he said. “It’s going to be something totally different, but another standardized test from what I am reading. “
However, Wager said that, “you need three, four, sometimes up to five years of data in order to be able to analyze what you are doing and what you are not doing.”
Wager said principals analyze the data with their staff and look at what is being taught and what needs to be taught to help prepare for the next year’s test.
Batchelor said, “This is my concern as a special education parent, that it’s appropriate that my child learn how to read. What’s the point of going to school if you can’t read? I want to make sure that everyone in this room understands that is a top priority and that reading proficiency needs to go up and we need to have concrete steps in place.”
Wager answered, “We do.”
Batchelor continued, “I am very concerned about the horrible reading proficiency in special ed in Upshur County. I don’t want theories. I want results. My child better know how to read, because that is an appropriate education. I don’t want anybody giving up. I understand my child is different, but I want a reading specialist in there making sure that my child can do the best appropriate work for her abilities.”
Batchelor also expressed concern about the board of education possibly cutting teachers and aides.
“How are you going to increase special education reading proficiency when you are cutting staff?” she asked.
At that point, board president Dr. Tammy Samples interjected, “We cannot discuss this, because we know nothing about it. This can’t happen in this forum, because we are not aware of the cuts they are making.”
However, Kathryn Grimm noted that a Dec. 30 The Record Delta budget article referenced special education and transportation aides as an area that the board may consider reducing.
Wager told Grimm the board does not know the specifics of what may happen in Charleston this year. He said no local decisions had been made, but did explain that the school system is over is state’s formula in personnel.
The superintendent said his office was looking at where cuts could be made, not only in special education but regular education as well. That includes secretaries and bus drivers.
The board of education voted earlier in the school year not to fill a vacancy created when former director of facilities resigned to move to another county. Instead, assistant superintendent Jack Reger has become more involved in the facilities, and other maintenance staff have stepped up to make sure the work is completed.
“Our numbers of special education students have gone down,” Wager said. “Now, in August, they could go back up again.”
At the December board meeting referenced in the previous article, it was reported that the board of education is 6.2 positions over in professional personnel and 17.5 positions over in service personnel. For every position above the formula provided by the state, the county has to pay for those positions.
The board of education is scheduled for Reduction in Force hearings Monday, Feb. 20 and possibly Feb. 27 if a second day is needed.
But Wager said the needs of the special education population will be monitored as enrollment numbers fluctuate or a child who needs a one-on-one aide comes into the school system.
“We are not going to deny any child services,” he said.
Samples also reminded the parents that the summative assessment is one test that is important, but it doesn’t represent everything that happens in the school year.
The parents asked why the state was intervening in the special education program and Wager noted all of the indicators that were outlined in the previous board meeting.
Board member Carl “Robbie” Martin said, “Nothing is final until we go through this. We will be looking at every single possibility and we are going to evaluate.
Grimm said. “If this audit looked a whole lot better, we wouldn’t have grave concerns. We may not even be here. The aides are invaluable. I’ve set in many, many classes over the years with my son. They do a lot of work; they help these children.”