Hoppy Kercheval, Opinion

‘They suck’: W.Va.’s math, reading test scores disappoint

West Virginia State School Board President Paul Hardesty, during an interview on Talkline, was blunt in his assessment of the just-released National Assessment of Educational Progress test results for our state.

“They suck,” he said. “I mean, they’re dismal. They’re not good … the worst in the history of the state.”

Others may choose less graphic terms to describe the scores, but the bottom line remains the same; West Virginia’s fourth and eighth grade results for math and reading were the second lowest in the nation, ahead of only New Mexico.

The scores were low before COVID, and they dropped even more during the pandemic here and across the country because in-person instruction was canceled or repeatedly interrupted.

No one — educators, parents, politicians, business leaders, the students themselves — can reasonably reach any conclusion other than the status quo is not acceptable. We are failing to meet the constitutional requirement to provide for a “thorough and efficient” school system.

In fairness, there is much good that happens in our schools. Gov. Justice alluded to that when he was asked about the test scores.

“Most people love their schools and their communities,” Justice said. “Now if the kids love their teachers and the community loves the school, we’ve got to have a bunch of good stuff going on there, don’t we? Let’s just be fair.”

The reality is both things can be true. We can acknowledge the healthy academic and character-building activities at public schools, while also confronting the documented failings.

What must West Virginia do?

Before rushing to quick-fixes or adjustments at the margins, state leaders and educators must clearly define the problem. Why are so many children failing to meet proficiency standards? Gaining that understanding will be an important first step and it must trump finger-pointing, excuses and defensive crouches.

Then, put all the cards on the table in search of solutions. Albert Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” West Virginia does not necessarily need to invent a new way to educate children. It can draw from the successes and failures of other states and school districts.

What we are doing now is not working.

Hoppy Kercheval is a MetroNews anchor and the longtime host of “Talkline.” Contact him at hoppy.kercheval@wvradio.com.