Oakton High School principal Charles Ostlund called the federal No Child Left Behind legislation "a paradigm shift in education." The act, which President George Bush signed in January 2002, stresses teacher accountability and is meant to increase achievement among the nation’s disadvantaged students.
"You used to be able to give a kid an ‘F’ and it was the kid’s problem," Ostlund said. "Now you ask the teacher, ‘What did you do wrong?’"
Ostlund is planning some programs at the school to help close the achievement gap. The principal is trying to organize a minority parent group to encourage involvement in the students’ school work.
"I want all people to feel included," Ostlund said. "We have a small minority population. Schools like Oakton, Madison, Langley and McLean are all kind of homogeneous. So it becomes more important for us to provide support."
TEACHERS ARE ALSO taking a close look at Standards of Learning (SOL) test results, to bring more students to a passing level. Ostlund said 90 percent of students passed 11th grade English last year and, therefore, teachers need to focus on the 10 percent, around 60 students, who did not pass. SOL test results are grouped in such a way, Ostlund said, that teachers can determine which areas need improvement.
"They know exactly where to pin-point problems, so they can provide students with remedial opportunities," Ostlund said.
The school will continue its What Counts character education program, first implemented during last school year. With that program students periodically meet to discuss in and outside the school. The first of these meetings, on Sept. 6, will give students a chance to remember Sept. 11. Students will discuss questions like, "Is it possible to break a circle of violence and retribution?"
TEACHERS WILL ALSO be attempting to create a more uniform grading policy, to be implemented in the following school year. Ostlund noted that if a student scores zero percentage points on a test, some teachers give an "F" grade, but round the percentage grade up to 55. Other teachers simply grade the test as a zero. He mentioned several other consistency problems with the current grading situation.
"You don’t want it all over the place," Ostlund said. "You want some level of consistency while maintaining some individual determination."
The school will have around 2,300 students this year. Enrollment is down from three years ago, when enrollment was at 2,530. Ostlund said the dip in enrollment is due to the opening of Westfield High School, which drew away some Oakton students. There will be 158 total teachers at the school, and 13 new teachers.
"Typically we open with 25 to 30 new teachers," Ostlund said. He said the low number of new teachers this year indicates a low amount of turnover.