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Schools Get Failing Grades

Almost half of Arlington’s public schools do not satisfy federal standards.

According to test scores released last week, 14 of Arlington’s 30 public schools failed to meet federal educational standards. One of those schools, Hoffman-Boston Elementary, has missed the federal standard for the past five years and could be forced to undergo a major reorganization.

Arlington Public Schools officials attributed the failure to meet the standards, which were instituted as a part of the No Child Left Behind Act, on a U.S. Department of Education decision earlier this year.

The federal mandate forced Virginia students with limited English skills to take the same standardized reading test as students fluent in English.

"As we expected," Superintendent of Schools Robert Smith said in a statement, "The greatest impact across the division by far results from what we continue to believe are unfair testing procedures for limited English proficient students."

Giving the standard reading test to English language learners was a point of controversy earlier this year in Virginia.

Arlington Public Schools, along with Fairfax County Public Schools and several other Virginia school divisons, refused to administer the test. However, the school divisons acquiesed when the U.S. Department of Education threatened to withhold funding.

MOST SCHOOLS in Arlington don’t receive any federal money so the failure to meet the standards, known as Adequate Yearly Progress or AYP, carries with it no consequence other than bad publicity.

But for the schools that do receive money under the federal Title I program, missing the AYP mark could force some drastic changes.

Of Arlington’s 11 Title I schools, all of them elementary schools where 35 percent of the students are economically disadvantaged, eight did not pass the federal standard.

According to the No Child Left Behind Act, if a school does not pass AYP for two years in a row, it will begin to be penalized with federal sanctions.

Hoffman-Boston has not made Adequate Yearly Progress for the past five years. It has had to offer tutoring to economically disadvantaged students and has had to give neighborhood parents the option of transferring their children to another school.

Because it did not make AYP this year, Hoffman-Boston will have to devise a plan to carry out "alternative governance" of the school. If it still doesn’t pass next year, the school may be forced to replace most its staff or be converted into a charter school. There is even a possibility that Hoffman-Boston could be taken over by the state.

However, assistant superintendent Mark Johnston said that other schools in Arlington had undergone reorganizations and still did not meet the AYP targets.

"I don’t think it has much of an impact in some cases," he said.

HOFFMAN-BOSTON principal Yvonne Dangerfield said that her staff is concerned about the sanctions.

"We’ve implemented some changes over the years," she said. "We’re seeing some improvement but unfortunately it still falls short."

Dangerfield cited the school’s high Spanish-speaking population as one reason why it could not meet the federal standards.

"I’m not certain how persons that are well-learned can think that children can come into the country and take the same assessment as children that have had their full schooling here," she said.

Key Elementary School also didn’t make AYP despite having made it in years past.

"It was ridiculous," said Key principal Marjorie Myers. "We have kids that had just come in just one or two years ago and there’s no way [they could’ve passed]."

"I’m not going to get too upset about it," she added.

Key will not be subject to penalties because it made AYP last year. But Myers said that she is still optimistic about the future of her school.

"I think Key is the best place to be in the world," she said. "We’re going to keep teaching the kids."