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Arlington Schools Fall Short of Goals

For the third year in a row Arlington's school system did not meet its targets under No Child Left Behind.

<bt>Though many of Arlington's 30 schools posted solid improvements on last spring's Standards of Learning (SOL) math and reading tests, the school system still fell short of its goals under the federal No Child Left Behind law — for the third consecutive year.

The school system failed to meet its targets during the 2004-2005 school year because too few low-income students, students with disabilities and students who speak limited English passed the reading exam.

Nearly two-thirds of Arlington's schools met all 29 annual targets under the law, which requires schools to make "Adequate Yearly Progress" (AYP). During last school year, that meant that 65 percent of students from each demographic group had to pass the reading exam and 63 percent of each student group had to pass the math exam.

"While we've seen some improvements, we also see some areas for concern," said Mark Johnston, assistant superintendent for student services.

Eleven schools failed to achieve AYP, though half only missed their goals by one or two targets. But the majority of the schools that failed this year marked gains in test scores.

Overall, the school system saw a 2 percent increase in its pass rate for all children on the reading exam. For students with disabilities, the pass rate on the reading test increased by 5 percent over 2004.

The biggest single improvement was for Arlington's "limited English proficiency" students, who raised their overall pass rate on the reading exam by 20 percent since 2003.

At the same time, results on the math exam were mixed. Though test scores for students with disabilities increased slightly since 2004, the pass rates declined for all other student groups.

"The results show, once again, that Arlington Public Schools teachers and Arlington Public Schools students are continuing our overall record of achievement," said Superintendent Robert Smith.

THIRTEEN elementary schools in Arlington are held to a particularly high standard because at least 35 percent of the student body at the school is poor. For not meeting the 29 targets under No Child Left Behind, these schools can face expensive sanctions.

For not making AYP for three years in a row, four elementary schools — Barcroft, Carlin Springs, Hoffman-Boston and Randolph — must offer private tutors to low-income students at a cost of between $1,200 and $1,500 per child.

Also, these four "Title I" schools must offer all students the chance to transfer out to another higher performing elementary school.

Two other elementary schools — Abingdon and Barrett — met all of their goals for 2005, but must still offer a school transfer choice because they failed to make AYP in both 2003 and 2004.

"These are all still high performing schools," Smith said.

Last year, more than 2,500 students were eligible to transfer to another elementary school. Of those students, only 28 decided to transfer.

Parents of children at each of the six schools offering choice this fall received letters in English and Spanish from the school system last week. The deadline for transfers is Tuesday, Aug. 30 at 4 p.m. The first day of school is Tuesday, Sept. 6.

To pay for these sanctions, the school system has budgeted $1.69 million for this year.

ON THE WHOLE, the Arlington school system's performance on last spring's SOL represents continued progress toward closing the achievement gap between white and affluent students and their poor, black and Hispanic classmates, school officials said.

"We've made some real progress in closing the gap," Johnston said. "But until it's eliminated, we'll continue to strive to see all children succeeding."

Since 1998, there has been a 40 percent reduction in the achievement gap, as black and Hispanic scores have steadily risen.

"I think we've made some good progress and we'll continue to work toward eliminating the gap altogether," Smith said.