Focusing on Every Child

Focusing on Every Child

Raising Passing Rates by 2014

August 14, 2002

Rima Vesilind, principal at Woodley Hills Elementary School in Mount Vernon, says her school has one of the most diverse student populations in the county.

The members of the student body hail from every continent, have IQs ranging from 50 to 150 and represent every economic level. Even so, the impending No Child Left Behind Act, which goes into effect this school year, does not have Vesilind worried.

"It will probably affect us very minimally. We already work to have every child succeed," Vesilind said. "We already have individualized lessons because we are so diverse anyway. For us, it would be reaffirming what we are already doing."

THE INTENT of the federally mandated program, is for every public school have a 100-percent passing rate in reading, math and science by the year 2014. The act allows the individual states to create their own learning standards — for Virginia, the Standards of Learning (SOL) will be used — and establish benchmarks to measure each school's "annual yearly progress," not only schoolwide but also in four subgroups: students with disabilities, those with limited English proficiency, the economically disadvantaged and minorities, which will most likely be broken down further into individual ethnic groups.

In addition, other measures that will be factored in include the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests given to samples of fourth-, eighth- and 12th-graders nationally; local English proficiency tests; graduation rates in high schools; and "other academic indicators" for elementary-school students — most likely absenteeism.

Compliance with the No Child Left Behind Act will require Virginia to administer annual SOL tests in reading and math in grades three through eight by the 2005-06 school year and once in so-called grade spans three through five, six through nine and 10 through 12 in science by the 2007-08 school year. Therefore SOL tests in reading and math will have to be created for grades four, six and seven.

ONE OF TWO formulas will establish the base line by which subsequent progress will be measured. The first method simply takes the lowest passing rate in each subgroup on the different statewide assessments. The second consists of a formula that uses the statewide cumulative enrollment and passing rates. The act requires whichever of the two methods that produces the higher starting point to become the base line. Schools must then improve their pass rates overall and in the subgroups incrementally, starting from the base line until they reach 100 percent in 2014.

"The way we'll most likely have to go is to [use the second method] because the state has such high proficiency rates," said Charles Pyle, Virginia Department of Education public information officer. "We'll take the 2002 SOL assessments and establish the benchmarks for now until 2014. Next year, the 2003 results will determine a school's annual yearly progress." Pyle said the state will not be able to determine the base line until the fall.

"THE ANNUAL YEARLY PROGRESS will become like the SOLs but more far-reaching," said Nancy Sprague, Fairfax County Public Schools assistant superintendent for instructional services. "It will be required of all public schools beginning this year."

Sprague said it'll be set annually, and if a school does not meet those targets for two years, the school is labeled a "failing school." Currently, the school system does not have any schools that would fall into that category.

"Ninety-five percent of the students in each subgroup have to be tested. There are no exceptions for first-year ESOL [English for Speakers of Other Languages] or for students with special needs," Sprague said. "There must be 30 or more students in each subgroup for it to count. The issue for most schools will be the subgroups."

For Key Middle School principal Harold Price, it is wait-and-see time. Overall, he feels his Springfield school is in good shape, but he is waiting to see what the state will determine are the base lines.

"What might soften the blow is the promotional benchmarks Fairfax County has already put into place," Price said. "We don't know the impact until the state does the base line. The formula is real interesting. And to tell the truth, I think as far as ESOL, this is not going to happen unless the state comes up with a statewide assessment."

At Key, Price expects at least 177 of his 860 charges to be ESOL students. He also has more than 100 students that are in special education.

IN ADDITION, the county could face a problem with another part of the act that requires teachers hired after the first day of school to work in Title I schools to be "highly qualified." Fairfax County has 36 Title I schools, based on the number of students receiving free or reduced-price meals.

All teachers, beginning with the 2005-06 school year, must fall in that category. Also by the same school year, all paraprofessionals must also meet the "highly qualified" standards.

Under the federal definition, a highly qualified teacher is required to have full state certification or to have passed state teacher licensing exams and currently hold a license in that state. It does not provide for a waiver on an emergency, temporary or provisional basis.

Temporarily licensed teachers in Virginia will be classified as qualified, while those with regular five-year renewable licenses will be highly qualified.

"This will have an impact on special education throughout the nation," Sprague said.

Brad Draeger, Fairfax County Public Schools assistant superintendent of human resources, said the school system is still in good shape as far as the hiring requirements are concerned. The county's current policy prohibits the hiring of teachers who will not be able to receive their licenses. It does hire teachers that are conditionally or provisionally licensed by the state, meaning they are in the process of earning all the credits they need for a full state license.

"People who want to go into teaching do what it takes to be a teacher," Draeger said.

As for this school year, Draeger said that as of Aug. 9, the school system has less than 50 teachers to yet to hire. In all, an estimated 1,500 are needed for this upcoming school year.