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Measuring Success in Alexandria City Public Schools

Learning, leadership, and liberty are important outcomes in education. When I speak to parents, community members, and business leaders, I often ask how they measure success. Most people measure the success of schools by test scores; after all, schools must be accountable for student achievement. So how do we measure success in Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS)?

I recently posed this question to the community: “If public education is so important to our democracy, how are we doing?” As we enter the final days before the 2012 presidential election, focused on a democratic society, we find a teachable moment – an opportune time to reflect and maintain momentum. Through consistent learning and strong leadership; our students will gain liberty as empowered citizens who will contribute in insightful ways to our global society. This is what we strive to achieve for our students and how we will measure success.

I was asked in an interview earlier this year, why is it so important for ACPS to close the academic achievement gap? My answer: “Closing the achievement gap is a civil rights issue. We must not have different levels of achievement among our students. Beyond obvious, necessary, and stirring responses such as the civil rights focus, closing the achievement gap has implications for our economy and our democracy. Our country’s future is dependent on a citizenry which is literate and productive.”

ACPS is no different from the rest of the country in our responsibility to reduce and eliminate the achievement gap. The impact of not eliminating the achievement gap impacts individuals, our democracy, and our economy. This is important work and a great responsibility shared by all educators.

So how do we measure success? T.C. Williams High School is the largest high school in Virginia with more than 3,000 students on two campuses. Two years ago it was given the PLA (Persistently Lowest Achieving) school designation. One year after receiving the designation, T.C. Williams had the highest state assessment results ever. Two years after receiving the designation, our high school is fully accredited.

Our foundational and guiding transformation document is labeled “Common Sense.” There is no magic bullet or golden handbook on the shelf. We have created a simple ACPS Learning Model with three parts: Curriculum, Instruction, and Relationships.

We believe that what goes on in the classroom has an impact on every student. Our focus has been on supporting our teachers, creating a new curriculum, and ensuring that our schools are safe and caring places for students.

Our ABC formula (Achievement, Building on our strengths, Caring and Continuous improvements) has produced high impact schools such as Cora Kelly School for Math, Science, and Technology and William Ramsay Elementary School. Both schools serve populations that are diverse with approximately 84 percent of the students are eligible for free and reduced lunch. Both schools have made impressive gains across all grade levels in reading, and fifth-grade math at Cora Kelly results proved nothing short of phenomenal — bucking the trend of lower math scores in the wake of new state assessments.

I continue to believe the challenge we are addressing right here in ACPS is one our country must address. We are the face of America. That is why we continue to advocate for the success of each and every student. That is why we continue to work towards closing the achievement gap. That is why we continue to applaud Jefferson-Houston School for the progress made in School Reading Inventory (SRI), School Math Inventory (SMI) and Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening (PALS) scores. That is why we identified Jefferson-Houston as a priority school in August and advocated for a conditional accreditation status for the school in recognition of demonstrated achievement and a clear action plan for increased achievement.

The commitment to educating the children of our democracy remains our priority. Through learning and leadership our students will gain liberty in life. We will continue to measure success both in the achievement and growth of our students. We will continue to celebrate each success. We will continue to rely on your support.