Phyllis Randall, a Lansdowne parent with two children in the Loudoun school district, has raised concern over a 58 point drop in Hispanic test scores on last year’s Scholastic Assessment Tests (SATs).
She also complained Tuesday night about the African-American SAT score, which dropped by 11 points. Overall scores rose, but “it’s not good enough,” she told the School Board.
“My concern is, obviously, if overall SAT scores are rising but minority scores are dropping …the [achievement] gap shouldn’t be widening,” she said.
Randall said she is not blaming anyone. “But can we find an answer? What can … the community do to help?”
COLLEGES AND universities decision makers use SAT scores as one criterion in selecting which students will have the opportunity to attend their institutions.
She referred to the director of the Children’s Defense Fund, who coined the phrase ‘No Child Behind.’ “This is exactly what she meant,” she said.
During the School Board break, Sharon Ackerman, assistant superintendent of instruction, said it is difficult to completely track the numbers, because one quarter of the test takers either failed to check the box indicating their race or checked “other.” Administrators cannot determine who fell in those categories.
The school district is trying to close the achievement gap. “We’re getting more kids overall, especially the minorities, in AP classes," she said, referring to Advanced Placement courses. “We are making some real inroads, really emphasizing greater participation in AP courses and honor classes.”
Loudoun also is opening fifth- and sixth-grade honor class enrollment to all students. That will get more students thinking about taking them in high school, she said.
Ackerman predicted scores would rise as more students take the more challenging academic courses.
Board member J. Warren Geurin (Sterling) said the minority gap is an important issue to the School Board, the school district, employers, the community, everybody. “When we talk about our budget, that is what it is focused on.”
BOB OHNEISER (Broad Run) expressed concern that so much attention is on preparation of the Standards of Learning (SOL) tests that perhaps not enough is being put on the SATs.
Joe Guzman (Sugarland Run) agreed. “There is a lot we can do. Sometimes it is easy to focus on standards of requirements. We need to recognize that is just the starting point.”
Ackerman said the school district already is offering curriculum above and beyond what is needed for children to pass the SOLs.
THE SCHOOL BOARD received another dose of bad news from the Board of Supervisors later in the evening. The Supervisors sent word that they have supported, in a straw vote, cutting $5 million in construction costs from each of the high schools planned for western Loudoun and Leesburg. Chairman John Andrews wondered aloud about how the school district could build them for $10 million less. The supervisors also made a straw vote in support of cutting the school budget by $2 million in addition to the earlier proposed $5 million proposed reduction, for a total of $7 million.
JANICE KING, director of social services at Good Shepherd Alliance, praised the School Board for its work with homeless children. She painted a grim picture of county’s homeless families, emphasizing the ramifications for the children. “There are many reasons why a family might find themselves homeless… especially with the lack of affordable housing. The children pay the ultimate price.”
Statistically, homeless children find themselves two or three grades behind the level they should be based on their age. “Loudoun County is no exception,” she said. “This is how growth can negatively affect low income children. Children are the fastest growing number of homelessness in the United States.”
She said homeless students have to deal with a number of issues, including physical abuse, low self-esteem, insufficient sleep and depression, which lead to under achievement. “There are many barriers,” she said. “It continues the cycle that existed with their parents and grandparents.”
She thanked the school district for working with these children to allow them to attend school without embarrassment.
THE SCHOOL BOARD voted 8 to 1 in support of a land exchange and proffer for the new Arcola Elementary School, saving $1.5 million over its original plan to demolish the school and build a new one. The developer of the Stone Ridge subdivision has offered to provide a 20.7-acre elementary school site, complete with central utilities, and to build a library in exchange for the 15.05-acre site of the current school. The subdivision is east of the school. Because the developer would assume responsibility of the demolition, the schools would save $1.5 million. The Board of Supervisors would have to give final approval on the proposal. Ohneiser voted against it, preferring instead to postpone the exchange for five years.
IN OTHER BUSINESS, the School Board:
* Applauded the efforts of Stephen Billington, a second-grade teacher at Ashburn Elementary School, who has been named Virginia’s Visiting International Faculty Cultural Educator of the Year. Billington is a native of the United Kingdom. Yasna Yilorm Barrientos of Chile, a teacher at Meadowland Elementary School in Sterling, and Clara Perez Vargas of Colombia, a teacher at Cedar Lane Elementary School in Ashburn, were nominees for the honor.
* Matthew Quinn, executive director of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, presented information about the organization. Before he presented the information, he elicited board members’ laughter when he said Cooke “owned the Redskins when it was a winning team.” Cooke wanted to go to college, but the hardships of the Depression sent him on another course. By the time he was 20 years old, he was penniless. By the time he was 30, he was a millionaire and when he died, he was a billionaire. Quinn said Cooke decided to give away his fortune to people with high ability and financial need. He told the board that the foundation would like to share its expertise in helping needy students with the school system. “We realize Loudoun County is our home,” he said. “We want to make sure those who are the neediest and the brightest get the help they need.”
* The Legislative/Policy Committee will meet at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, April 7, in the School Board Meeting Room, North Street, Leesburg. It will discuss setting the standards for school plays. Public comment will not be permitted, committee Chairman Mark Nuzzaco (Catoctin) said.