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Some Schools Miss AYP

Despite missing benchmarks, school officials say achievement is rising.

As of now, South Lakes High School fell short in one of 29 adequate yearly progress categories required by the federal No Child Left Behind law.

“I’ll tell you we passed the other one, too,” said Bruce Butler, principal at South Lakes High School, who thinks a coding mistake is the reason behind the lone missed benchmark. “I’m very confident that we [passed].”

An appeal is pending with the state, according to Butler. But if the appeal fails, six of 10 schools in Reston will have not made adequate yearly progress, which would make Reston one of the worst performing jurisdictions in the county.

“It’s a concern,” said Betsy Goodman, the county’s assistant superintendent who oversees schools in the South Lakes pyramid. “The principals have worked very hard with their staffs to ensure that supports and interventions are in place to work with students who are not passing the [Standards of Learning exams.]”

EACH YEAR, under the law, a school is tested on 29 academic targets. To make adequate yearly progress, the school must pass all 29. For the 2005-2006 school year, the passing rate for each student subgroup — such as white, black, Hispanic and poor — increased to 67 percent. On similar exam for reading, 69 percent of students in each group are required to pass to meet AYP.

At South Lakes, for example, preliminary figures show that 66 percent of black students passed in math, so the high school missed that benchmark by 1 percent.

This year, four of Reston’s elementary schools — Dogwood, Hunters Woods, Lake Anne and Terraset — missed adequate yearly progress, ranging from one to three benchmarks.

The worst performing school of the six was Langston Hughes Middle School, according to the Virginia Department of Education. Hughes missed seven benchmarks, mostly in categories that track minority and disadvantaged students.

Goodman pointed out that the performance of middle schools throughout the county slipped, which she attributes partially to new testing among seventh-graders. “So I think we have to zero in on where we have new tests,” said Goodman. Ten middle schools throughout the county did not make AYP.

YET, THE OVERALL trend in student scores at the schools is upward.

Linda Hajj, principal of Lake Anne Elementary, said her school is a good example. Only 53 percent of poor students last year met the mark in English. This year, she said 66 percent passed, just 3 percent shy of the 69-percent requirement.

Gains among students with disabilities on the English exam were even larger. Last year, 54 percent of students with disabilities passed the English exam. This year, 77 percent passed, according to Hajj. But, to meet AYP, 79 percent needed to pass.

“We’ve made gains, but it’s not going to be enough because the bar keeps moving up,” said Hajj, who started as principal last May. Hajj said she’s happy about the gains, but not satisfied. “We know we still have a challenge.”

Goodman said the focus on AYP sometimes obscures the overall progress being made at schools. For example, she said, Hunters Woods had very high overall pass rates. “They have 80 to 90-plus percent pass rates overall, but in one subgroup in one category, they’re not coming up as quickly,” said Goodman.

WHILE THE SEVERAL Reston principals interviewed for this article unanimously supported testing, they also felt it was just one aspect of a school’s success.

“The tests themselves, to measure achievement, I think they’re a good idea,” said Butler. “But to perceive a school that’s passed 27 of 28 categories as a failure — I’m not sure that’s totally fair.”

In addition, the test past-rate requirements continue to rise per No Child Left Behind. “I think it will become more challenging for our schools to meet adequate yearly progress as the requirement pass rate continues to grow,” said Goodman. By 2010, 89 percent of all students must pass the reading exam and 87 percent must pass the math exam.