The 2016 session of the 82nd West Virginia Legislature adjourned last month and some of us may still be scratching our heads in an effort to make sense of what transpired in Charleston this term. The session was contentious at times, and while there is plenty of fodder for negative commentary, I want to highlight a piece of legislation that did make sense.
Delegate David Perry (D-Fayette), proposed House Bill 4028, which would reduce the number of school days for students from 180 to 175, return the five days to teachers for professional development, mandate “no later than” start and end dates, and move the standardized testing to within eight days of the end date. This proposal, although logical by many teachers’ standards, encountered opposition. Detractors protested that students, in a system already in need of “public education overhaul,” were losing valuable school days.
What may not be understood by many outside of the education environment, is that those five days will be lost regardless of the 180-day fulfillment. Once standardized testing is complete, it becomes challenging for students to maintain focus and for some teachers to maintain rigor and discipline. The last week(s) of school contain field trips, field days, movies, and other non-academic activities. Ask most teachers at most schools—very little quality instruction takes place at the very end of the year. The stipulation requiring testing to be completed within eight days of the last day of school would go a long way towards mitigating this issue.
Of equal importance for teachers is the return of those five days for professional development. It is important that teachers be afforded ongoing opportunities within the school year to collaborate with colleagues, learn a new technology, or attend a content-based workshop. These days benefit the school community as a whole because they foster cohesion and support amongst the teaching staff, as well as a time for teachers to learn something new.
A cohesive and passionate faculty is critical to the students in our care. Do our students deserve quality or quantity? Without quality, it is a guarantee that we will perpetually be in need of the “public education overhaul” cited by detractors.
— Claire Webb is an educator with Jefferson County Schools