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Failures Trigger Options

Test results at three schools empower parents to have children stay or transfer.

Many Alexandria children will find out just this week where they will attend school this year.

Parents at three of the city’s elementary schools received notices about school option last week. This option was offered as a result of four of the city’s elementary schools failing to meet Adequate Yearly Progress as required by the federally-mandated No Child Left Behind Act. The schools are Jefferson-Houston, John Adams, Patrick Henry and Maury, where families received notification of their school option last spring. Maury parents were given the option to transfer to other more successful schools in the city last year, and, by law, must be given the choice again this year.

“We have been working very hard to call all parents who have chosen to transfer their children to other schools,” said Cathy David, the new assistant superintendent of schools for curriculum and instruction. “It’s very complicated because parents were asked to rank their school choices in order of preference. If space is available at the school listed as a first choice, everything is fine. However, if we have to go to a second or third choice, things are more complicated. Everyone is being contacted personally to ensure that things go smoothly on the first day of school.”

While the four schools have been forced to offer parents the option to transfer their children to other schools, five additional city schools failed to meet all of the required benchmarks in AYP. Those schools are: Cora Kelly, Lyles-Crouch, Francis Hammond Middle School, George Washington Middle School and T. C. Williams High School.

“AT CORA KELLY and Lyles-Crouch, we will analyze our data and look closely at our individual school plans to address the deficiencies,” David said. “While these schools met many of the benchmarks required by AYP, we must take steps to address those we didn’t meet.

“As we have talked to parents and explained why their specific school did not meet AYP, some have opted to stay. It just depends on the parent and the school,” she said.

Except Lyles-Crouch, all of the elementary schools that failed to meet AYP are Title I schools. A Title I school is a school that receives federal funds to help children in high poverty areas who are behind academically or who are at risk of falling behind. Title I funding is based on the number of low income children in a school, generally those eligible for free or reduced lunch. Alexandria receives approximately $2 million in Title I funding, which could be at risk if these schools continue to fail to meet AYP.

“This is a real issue,” David said. “Not meeting AYP doesn’t mean that the school is failing. For example, some schools didn’t meet AYP because less than 95 percent of students in certain subcategories did not take the SOL test on which AYP is based.”

Title I schools that do not make AYP for two consecutive years in the same subject area are identified for improvement. This year, 59 percent of students in schools throughout Virginia were required to pass a standardized test in math and 61 percent were required to pass a test in English. Schools must not only meet this goal for the entire student population but in specific sub-populations — black, white, Hispanic, students with disabilities, economically disadvantaged students and limited English proficient students.

AT MAURY, for example, 62 percent of students passed the math but only 41 percent passed English. Only 36 percent of black students at Maury passed English and 55 percent of these same students passed math. Hispanic students at Maury also did not meet the benchmark for English, with only 47 percent of those students passing English and 79 percent passed math, exceeding the 59 percent benchmark.

“Our scores are improving at Maury,” said principal, Lucretia Jackson. “We know that we have more work to do and we are optimistic.”

At Jefferson-Houston, 54 percent of all students passed English and 60 percent passed math. Fifty-one percent of the black students tested at the school passed English and 56 percent passed math. Hispanic students at Jefferson-Houston exceeded both English and math benchmarks, with 70 percent passing English and 80 percent passing math. Disadvantaged students at the school failed to meet both English and math benchmarks, with only 46 percent passing English and 53 percent passing math.

“We have a long way to go,” said Jefferson-Houston principal Marcia Baldanza. “Next year the targets for math and English are 70 percent. Our goal is to make the designation of a Safe Harbor School at a minimum. That is achievable.”

Schools may be designated as Safe Harbors and meet AYP if 95 percent of all students take the standardized test (SOL) and the previous year’s failure rate decreases by at least 10 percent in English and math. Safe Harbor schools must also show improvement on all other required benchmarks.

SECONDARY SCHOOLS are treated differently. “In Alexandria, only elementary schools are Title I schools,” said Margee Walsh, the executive director of secondary education programs. “If these schools do not meet AYP they are required to submit school improvement plans. That is the only sanction.

“At Hammond, the participation rates for some of the subgroups were the problem. We are going back and looking at that data to make sure that everything was counted correctly. Participation rates are certainly easy to address district wide,” she said.

Failure to meet AYP does not mean that a school will not be accredited. “That’s part of the confusion,” David said. “While both are based on SOL results, the data is calculated differently.”

How can parents best learn about AYP? “There is a lot of information out there,” Walsh said. “The Virginia Department of Education has guides for parents as does the U. S. Department of Education. Also, a number of private groups are producing information that might be helpful.

“Parents must ask questions and want to be informed. Locally, we try to provide information through the school report cards and in various other forms that are sent to parents. No Child Left Behind is very complicated. There are 29 different benchmarks and, to meet AYP, schools must be successful in all of them,” she said.

For more information on how a school was rated on AYP, go to 222.pen.k12.va.us/vdoe/src.