Jefferson Houston among 37 Virginia schools given ‘Priority’ status

Virginia’s Education Department identified 37 of the state’s lowest performing schools Tuesday as so-called “Priority schools” that must work with turn-around partners to roll out comprehensive reforms to improve their performance.

Jefferson Houston School in Alexandria was the only school in Northern Virginia to earn Priority status. The city’s T.C. Williams High School, which had been labeled a Priority school, lost the designation this year thanks to improvement in student achievement and graduation rates.

The state also announced an additional 73 schools that are considered “Focus schools” that must hire school-improvement coaches.

These labels were adopted by the state as part of its revised federal accountability system, which was approved in exchange for a flexibility waiver from the U.S. Education Department.

The waiver freed Virginia schools from the requirement that they would face sanctions unless all their students had become proficient in reading and math by this school year.

In the new system, reform interventions are focused on the state’s lowest performing schools that also receive federal Title 1 funding for low-income students.

School performance under the new system is measured according to how they meet annual benchmarks for performance in reading and math, as well as high school graduation rates for high schools.

The academic benchmarks vary depending on subgroups, with historically lower-performing groups, such as African Americans or English Language Learners, starting with lower target proficiency rates on state tests.

The targets increase over time so that all groups are meeting the same expectations — and the gap in performance is closed — within six years.

Statewide, only 41 percent, or 743 schools, met all of the benchmarks in reading, mathematics and graduation rates, down from 68 percent of schools across the state last year.

The lower results reflect, in part, the results of updated tests that have been introduced over the past two years.

“It is important to consider the increased rigor of Virginia’s new reading and mathematics Standards of Learning tests before making conclusions about schools that missed annual objectives,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Patricia I. Wright said in a press statement. “Virginia has raised the bar to prepare students for the realities of the 21st century.”

The lowest-performing 5 percent of Title I schools are considered Priority schools and the next 10 percent of Title I schools are dubbed Focus schools.

This year, the following Northern Virginia schools were included in the group of 73 Focus schools:

Alexandria — John Adams Elementary and Patrick Henry Elementary

Arlington County — Campbell Elementary and Drew Model Elementary

Fairfax County — Sleepy Hollow Elementary

Loudoun County — Guilford Elementary and Sugarland Elementary

Manassas — Jennie Dean Elementary

Prince William County — West Gate Elementary and Yorkshire Elementary

The schools still have the two-year Focus School designation despite the fact that they met all their performance goals last school year. The state called them “Improving Focus Schools:”

Arlington County — Barrett Elementary

Fairfax County — Annandale Terrace Elementary and Forestdale Elementary

Loudoun County — Rolling Ridge Elementary

Manassas — Richard C. Haydon Elementary

Prince William County — Elizabeth Vaughan Elementary and Suella G. Ellis Elementary

Michael Alison Chandler writes about schools and families in the Washington region.
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