Failing for Second Time

Failing for Second Time

Mount Vernon Woods must offer tutorials.

Mount Vernon Woods Elementary will soon be notifying parents that it will be offering free private tutorial services to all of its low-income students. Fairfax County Schools announced last week that preliminary data from the Virginia Department of Education indicates that Mount Vernon Woods has failed to reach Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) standards set by the federal No Child Left Behind Act for the second year in a row. In order to meet the sanctions triggered by this failure, Mount Vernon Woods will begin a program of supplemental education services for its students.

Mount Vernon Woods is a Title I school, one of 35 in the county, meaning it receives federal funding for its high population of low-income students. Only students on free or reduced price lunch will be eligible for the federally funded private tutorials that the school must provide in response to the No Child Left Behind sanctions. For Mount Vernon Woods, this would be a large majority of its student population. 77 percent of students at the school received free/reduced price lunches in the 2004-2005 school year.

There are 29 benchmark categories set by the AYP. These are broken down by subject – reading and math – as well as attendance and graduation rate. Specific populations within the student body must meet each standard. Low-income students, students with limited English skills, students with disabilities and black, Hispanic and white students must all pass the AYP requirements, which are scored from Virginia’s Standards of Learning tests for reading and math. This year, each subgroup was required to achieve a score of 69 percent on the SOL reading test and 67 percent in math.

According to Principal Marie Lemmon, two subgroups within Mount Vernon Woods failed to score the 69 percent requirement for reading. The county’s director for student testing, Ray Diroll, would not release additional information on the tests, citing their preliminary status. In the 2004-2005 AYP test, three subgroups at Mount Vernon Woods - low-income, limited English proficient and Hispanic - failed to pass the reading test. In that year, 55 percent of the school’s population was Hispanic and 44 percent had limited English proficiency. The school’s overall average was also one percentage point below the required 65 percent to pass AYP.

TO SATISFY sanction requirements, Diroll said the county plans to offer private tutors free of charge to all of the school’s low-income students. He said the school will organize an open house for parents to come and meet the different private tutors that have been authorized by the state to provide remediation services. Tutoring sessions are flexible. They may be scheduled after school and on weekends, and can be held at students’ homes or on school property. Diroll said that parents would get to choose whether to pursue this option. Nationally, only 19 percent of eligible students in schools with No Child Left Behind sanctions took advantage of similar free tutoring in the 2004-2005 school year, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office released this month.

The county’s plan to offer tutoring is may be complicated, however, by the fact that federal law requires that school systems offer an option to transfer schools, not tutorials, as the response to a school’s first year of sanctions. Tutoring can only be offered after a third failing year. The federal education agency rejected a request from the state to reverse the two responses. However the state is appealing, and Fairfax is operating under the assumption that this appeal will be successful.

“School choice, which has been implemented in two other [county] schools, has not resulted in a positive impact for the students most in need,” Fairfax schools superintendent Jack Dale stated in a press release. “The provision of tutoring, or [supplemental education services], is the appropriate course of action and in the best interest of the students since it provides additional instruction time and allows the students to stay in their familiar neighborhood school environments.”

Diroll was confident the government would endorse Fairfax’s approach. “The federal government has changed their minds on this,” he said.

PRINCIPAL LEMMON, who is new to the school after serving as an assistant principal at Hybla Valley Elementary for the last three years, said the school’s response to the AYP results will not be restricted to the optional tutoring. She said the school would reach beyond the demographic data that drives the test results to focus on the needs of each student. “There’s a lot of things that go into how each individual child performs on a test,” she said. “One of the things we’ll be working on each year is making sure that each of our individual children progress at the rate they need to progress.” She said that although Mount Vernon Woods had failed within two of its subgroups this year, its overall rate was passing, an improvement over the 2004-2005 result.

Lemmon said Mount Vernon Woods is implementing a literacy collaborative program. A teacher from the school spent last year training as a literacy coach. This year the coach will teach a course to teachers in Kindergarten, first and second grades. All teachers in the course will get ten hours of individual coaching and feedback.

The school is also creating professional learning communities. Lemmon said teachers will form collaborative learning teams to answer four questions: “What do we need our children to learn? How are we going to get them to learn it? What kind of enrichment do we provide when they’ve learned it? How are we going to handle a child that has not learned it?”

“Teachers can talk back and forth and share that knowledge with each other,” Lemmon explained. “This year we’re really going to focus on that.”