Nina Austin knew Barrett Elementary had improved. The school has met federal testing standards for the past two years, meaning Arlington County no longer has to allow parents to transfer their children out.
"Things were going well all along," said Austin, the PTA president who has had a child at Barrett for the past six years.
After the school failed to meet federal testing standards in 2003 and 2004, it was required to offer school choice. But for the following two years, the North Henderson Road school continued to improve its test scores. This fall, the school will no longer be required to allow its students to transfer to a different elementary school.
"They have sort of re-energized and refocused," said Austin.
At least six other Arlington elementary schools, however, were not as successful. According to preliminary 2006 test results, the schools fell short of their academic targets.
These schools, all called "Title 1" schools because they receive some direct federal funding because of high poverty rates, must now allow parents to transfer their children to other schools.
The schools which failed to achieve "Adequate Yearly Progress" include Abingdon (which failed in math), Barcroft (math), Campbell (reading), Carlin Springs (math), Hoffman-Boston (reading) and Randolph (reading), according to a Aug. 15 memo from Superintendent Robert Smith.
The school system has not yet released testing data, which will explain which areas each school failed in, and by how much.
Other Arlington schools may have failed to achieve adequate yearly progress, but those that do not receive federal funding because of high poverty rates are not obliged to offer transfers.
The final results will not be in for at least another month or two, said Arlington school officials. "These are important numbers, but they’re not the only numbers," said School Board member Dave Foster.
Foster said he was pleased that Barrett is now considered a passing school, but he said the School Board recognize there is more work to do.
"Certainly, none of us are going to be happy until every school is making ‘Adequate Yearly Progress,’" he said. Adequate Yearly Progress is the term used to describe whether or not a school is considered passing under the federal No Child Left Behind law.
School Board Chair Mary Hynes echoed Foster’s comments.
Arlington County has been studying students in demographic sub-groups — similar to the requirements under the federal law — since 1996. "No Child Left Behind isn’t pushing us to do this," Hynes said.
Yet as a result of No Child Left Behind, the data is more easily available, with test pass rates, graduation rates, school safety statistics and much more available online at www.pen.k12.va.us/VDOE/src/index.shtml.
BOTH BOARD MEMBERS said that the school system studies the different test results and uses them to help focus resources in the future. "What are the interventions we need? What are the trainings that teachers need?" said Hynes.
Families at schools which failed to achieve adequate yearly progress receive letters informing them of their option to transfer, said Hynes. The letters, she said, are in English, Spanish, and in some cases, a third language that it is prominent at the school.
Students who go to another school are bussed there, Hynes said.
Students at sanctioned schools are also offered additional tutoring and individualized programs to help them pass the standardized tests, Foster said. "The system is doing a number of things to help the kids get better."
One challenge facing Arlington schools is diversity. Students come speaking dozens of different languages, and from as many cultural backgrounds.
At Barrett, for example, the school has a high immigrant population, Austin said. The student population had been transient, making it more difficult to implement strategies which could be carried over from one year to another.
Recently, however, with the spike in housing costs, things have changed. "In the past three to five years, young families are staying," Austin said.
One strategy implemented at Barrett is a series of seminars aimed at encouraging parents to stay involved in their child’s education. "Studies show students will be more successful if the parents are involved," Austin said.
The programs help parents to understand what teachers will be asking of the children, so the lessons can be used at home.
"If the parents aren’t saying the same thing, it’s not really re-enforcing it," Austin said.
Austin said that even when Barrett offered transfers, few parent took advantage of it.
Foster and Hynes said that was a system-wide trend.
"In Arlington, families have opted to stay where they are," Hynes said.
Foster said that allowing transfers is, in a way, one of the flaws in the No child Left behind law. "It assumes that the school is the problem," Foster said. "I think the parent’s know this is not a reflection on their schools."