Dear Extra Credit:
Can you explain the rules governing absenteeism of teachers? It seems that after my children moved to gifted and talented (GT) classrooms in an elementary GT center, I noticed a higher rate of absenteeism for their teachers. How much additional training is necessary to be a GT teacher? How much of that training is done during school hours? And how does all of that compare with regular schoolteachers?
_____About This Feature_____
Figuring out what is going on in your schools is not always easy. The accounts children bring home, though colorful, may not be entirely accurate. Notes sent home get lost. Neighborhood chatter is unreliable.
To help, Post staff writer Jay Mathews, who has been covering schools for 22 years, will answer a reader question each week -- or maybe two or three if they are easy ones.
Please send your questions -- along with your name, e-mail or postal address and telephone number -- to Extra Credit, The Washingtom Post, 51 Monroe St., Suite 500, Rockville, Md. 20850. Or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
GT Center parent
All teachers in Fairfax County get 13 days of sick leave each year, three of which can be converted to personal leave. To take personal leave, you have to get your principal's permission. Sick leave you can take without prior approval.
If you want to get an endorsement in gifted education on your teaching license in Virginia, you need 12 additional hours of graduate-level credits in that field. Local universities, as well as the Fairfax County Public Schools Academy, offer the courses during the summer and after school.
All county teachers, no matter what their specialty, have opportunities to take courses to enhance their teaching skills. Fairfax County schools spokesman Paul Regnier said, "GT teachers are no more likely to be out of class for professional development than are other teachers."
Although some training sessions and professional development classes are held during the school day, he said, many occur on Monday afternoons after school, and some take place during the summer. Each GT center is also entitled to send two teachers to professional development sessions offered during the school day three or four times each year. Usually, different teachers are sent to each session to give the extra training to as many teachers as possible.
Test Attendance Rules Puzzling
Dear Extra Credit:
I understand and agree heartily with the "No Child Left Behind" theory, but the program doesn't seem to make sense to me. You can have every student who took a particular test that applies to the NCLB "score" pass, but if the school didn't have enough kids from one group (minority, special ed, etc.) take the test, then the whole school "fails"? I really don't understand this. So, every child in the school who was there on testing day could pass the test with all A's, but because of a technicality such as student numbers or representations, the school "fails"? This seems absurd.
Virginia Run Elementary
and Westfield High parent
It does seem odd, and it is hard to understand unless you have been, like me, a captive observer of the frequent exposés and battles over testing policy in the last decade.
The Democratic and Republican legislators, and their staff experts, who wrote the No Child Left Behind law knew that some districts and schools had been putting their thumbs on the testing scale. One of the most popular stunts was to invite those students most likely to do poorly on the state test to go on a field trip on testing day. This was particularly easy to do with students with learning disabilities, who often had separate classes.
To discourage such mischief, the new federal law says that a school must show academic progress in every subgroup to reach the federal targets. Each major race is a subgroup, as are low-income kids, kids from homes that don't speak English and kids with learning disabilities who are in special education classes. So if your special ed students don't take the test, your school doesn't make the "adequate yearly progress" benchmark and could be put on the "needs improvement" list.
To make sure schools would not send a few of the very lowest performing kids in each subgroup out to recess during the test, the law sets a certain minimum participation rate for each subgroup, usually 95 percent.
It is indeed a technicality and a great annoyance to many teachers, principals and superintendents, but it addresses a real problem about which they have long been aware.
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