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Making the Grade

Of the city’s 16 schools, 14 meet the Virginia benchmarks for accreditation.

According to scores released by the Virginia Department of Education this week, 14 of Alexandria’s 16 public schools met the state requirements for accreditation this year. The two city schools that didn’t meet the benchmarks: Jefferson-Houston School for Arts and Academics failed in English and Math while George Washington Middle School failed in Math.

Accreditation ratings are based on student achievement on Standards of Learning tests in four content areas: English, Math, History and Science. High schools and middle schools are fully accredited if 70 percent of their students pass the test in four content areas, while elementary benchmarks are staggered to encourage reading proficiency in the early grades. Schools that don’t meet these benchmarks are “accredited with warning” for three years — after which they are denied accreditation.

JEFFERSON-HOUSTON is the only school in Alexandria in danger of having its accreditation denied, a designation that would bring corrective actions from the Virginia Board of Education. That could happen next year if the school fails to meet state benchmarks again. Although Jefferson-Houston failed to meet federal benchmarks under No Child Left Behind this year, it was designated as having made adequate yearly progress under the “safe-harbor” provision of the 2001 act. This means that the school made significant improvement over last year’s scores — even if it didn’t meet the annual measurable objective.

“This school had a 10 percent reduction in the number of students who failed the test, so it qualified for safe harbor status” said Charles Pyle, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Education. “Safe harbor is a way to reward schools that make progress, even when they don’t meet the benchmarks.”

The Alexandria School Board and Superintendent Rebecca Perry have decided to focus attention on the elementary school this year, with two different board committees conducting investigations of the school’s curriculum and facilities. Although the school was unable to meet the Virginia benchmarks again this year, school administrators point to improvement over last year’s performance. Last year, Jefferson-Houston failed to meet three benchmarks while this year it failed to meet two.

‘“We have made many changes at Jefferson-Houston over the past few years and we are beginning to see positive results,” said Perry. “The School Board and I have pledged to make improvements at Jefferson-Houston to bring it up to the same level of excellence as our other schools.”

GEORGE WASHINGTON failed to meet the Virginia benchmark for accreditation because of math test scores in grades 6 and 7. School administrators said that they were suspicious of the tests.

“Math scores for grades 6 and 7 plummeted across the state,” said Amy Carlini, executive director of Information and Outreach for Alexandria City Public Schools. “It seems a little odd that scores in grades 5, 8 and 9 were good while scores in grades 6 and 7 were bad.”

Superintendent Perry echoed this perception in her report to School Board members about preliminary scores last week.

"We will closely examine our math program for grades 6 and 7," Perry said. "However, it seems rather suspicious that all students in Virginia in grades 6 and 7 scored low on this new test, but grade 8 scores remained high."

MAURY ELEMENTARY SCHOOL overcame years of low test scores this year — making both federal requirements under No Child Left Behind and Virginia accreditation benchmarks. In a presentation to School Board members last week, Perry was pleased with success at a school where administrators have been engaged in a protracted effort to improve test scores and raise standards.

“When we unrolled that banner that said, ‘This School is Fully Accredited,’ there wasn’t a dry eye in the house,” Perry said. “This is truly an example where a village has come together to make it work.”

Alexandria’s other fully accredited schools are: John Adams Elementary, Barrett Elementary, Patrick Henry Elementary, Cora Kelly School for Math, Science and Technology, Lyles-Crouch Traditional Academy, Douglas MacArthur Elementary, George Mason Elementary, Mount Vernon Community School, James K. Polk Elementary, Ramsay Elementary, Tucker Elementary, Hammond Middle School, and T.C. Williams High School.