Schools fail a state mark

Published 8:52 pm Friday, August 29, 2008

Public schools in Franklin and Southampton and Isle of Wight counties failed to reach accepted achievement levels in what the federal government calls its “adequate yearly progress,” part of the No Child Left Behind legislation passed in 2001.

The results were released by the Virginia Department of Education Wednesday morning.

It is at least the second consecutive year those divisions did not reach acceptable levels, which are based on testing throughout last school year.

In Franklin, Franklin High School failed to make AYP because its graduation rate did not pass muster with expectations set. In Southampton, Southampton Middle did not make AYP, as did Hunterdale Elementary School, which moves this year to Riverdale Elementary. In Isle of Wight, three schools did not make AYP: Smithfield and Windsor middle schools and Westside Elementary School.

Results in Isle of Wight County were perplexing, in that many schools showed improvement over the previous testing period results, yet still the overall results kept the division from reaching AYP levels.

“The majority of our schools and students are making the progress required by the state, but we continue to focus our efforts to ensure that all children are succeeding,” said Michael McPherson, superintendent. “Our administrative teams and teachers have reviewed the results and are addressing areas that need improvement.”

Divisionwide, the overall pass rate in English was 88 percent, compared with 85 percent during 2006-2007. Notably, black students increased their overall achievement by seven percent from the previous year, while students identified as disadvantaged raised their overall scores six percent.

Overall achievement in mathematics increased by two percent with 83 percent of all students passing state tests. Students in every subgroup improved scores by two to three percent.

Ninety percent of students passed tests in science, a one percent increase from 2006-2007. Isle of Wight County Schools’ science scores are also two percent higher than the state scores. The achievement of students with disabilities increased five percent.

“This year’s results showed certain significant increases within student subgroups,” said Associate Superintendent for Instruction, Mary Mehaffey. “We are pleased that we are closing the achievement gaps, an important component of the No Child Left Behind Act, and the strategic direction of Isle of Wight County Schools.”

For their part, Southampton school administrators are pleased with their students’ performance on the SOL tests, despite the failure of two schools and the system at large to make the federally mandated AYP benchmarks.

“Our people did an outstanding job with SOLs,” Superintendent Charles Turner said Thursday. “We only had one content area in one school that fell below the 70 percent mark. We’ve done extremely well.”

Southampton Middle School and Riverdale Elementary School both failed to make AYP because of the performance of subgroups on math and English tests.

In the middle school’s case, fewer than 65 percent of black students, students with disabilities and disadvantaged students passed the mathematics and English portions of the tests.

Similarly, at Riverdale (whose students attended Hunterdale Elementary at the time of the tests), just 65 percent of black and disadvantaged students passed the math test. Fewer than 70 percent of black students, disabled students and disadvantaged students passed the English test.

“We really don’t consider it a problem,” said Dr. Timothy Kelly, assistant superintendent in Southampton. “The situation is very simple. We have to address those subgroups in our instructional plan.”

In a conference call, he and Turner said the system would beef up its remedial efforts for those students who need it. In particular, they said, math resource teachers had been added at the elementary and middle schools.

A new program available at all grade levels is also designed to address the instructional problems uncovered by the SOL tests, they said.

Pathways to Success, according to Dr. Wayne Smith, director of administration and middle school instruction, is designed to provide support and intervention to students who have problems in school.

“We want to increase academic performance at the elementary schools, the middle school and the high school,” he said. “We’ll make sure that all the students who need support get that support.”

The point of the program is to help increase academic performance, motivation, retention rates and on-time graduation rates and to help cut down on problems from poor behavior and attendance, he said.

“We will not be satisfied until we reach 100 percent in both the AYPs and the SOLs,” Turner said.

Franklin school officials, on the other hand, experienced a good news-bad news report.

S.P. King Middle School, which last year failed to make AYP, topped the objectives in this report.

It is “news to celebrate,” said Bev Rabil, assistant director of instruction for Franklin schools. The success at King Middle is an “attribute to the staff and our partnership with the University of Virginia and the Read to Success initiative.”

Rabil also cited the success of S.P. Morton Elementary School, which met all the objectives.

“We are pleased with all the sub-groups performance in reading and math,” she said.

She said the failure of Franklin High School to meet overall objectives were not based on specific academics, but on the graduation rate, as determined by the tests.

Rabil said she was “pleased” with the results in math and reading.

She said plans are already in place to institute a transition program for eighth-graders making the move to ninth grade. She described it as a mentoring program.

Statewide, 74 percent of the commonwealth’s public schools met or exceeded all No Child Left Behind (NCLB) objectives during the 2007-2008 school year as student achievement increased on Standards of Learning and other statewide tests in reading, mathematics and other subjects.

It is possible for a school division to reach the objectives with some individual schools within the division failing to reach the objectives.

For a school, school division or the state to have made AYP, at least 77 percent of students overall and students in all AYP subgroups (white, black, Hispanic, limited English proficient (LEP), students with disabilities and economically disadvantaged) must have demonstrated proficiency on statewide assessments in reading, and 75 percent must have passed state tests in mathematics.

The 2007-2008 benchmarks for achievement in reading and mathematics were each four points higher than during the previous school year.

It was the third time in the last four years that the commonwealth made what the federal law describes as “adequate yearly progress.”

The state made AYP despite higher benchmarks in reading and mathematics, the two subjects that are the primary focus of the federal law.

Despite the higher AYP hurdles, 1,355 of the commonwealth’s 1,837 public schools met or exceeded all objectives in reading, mathematics and other indicators of academic progress, which was the same percentage as in 2006-2007.

However 54 of Virginia’s 132 school divisions made AYP during 2007-2008, compared with 59 during the previous year. Of the 78 school divisions that did not make AYP, 23 met all but one of the 29 objectives for achievement and participation in testing.

AYP ratings and student achievement data for all Virginia public schools and school divisions are available in the Virginia School Report Card section of the Virginia Department of Education Web site

State school accreditation ratings, which also are based on student achievement on statewide assessments, will be released by the Virginia Department of Education in September.