N.Va. Schools Incur 'No Child' Penalties

By Ian Shapira and Jay Mathews
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, August 17, 2005

As many as 15 schools in Northern Virginia must allow their students to transfer to other schools or pay tutors to help teach their pupils because of lagging test scores, Virginia state officials said yesterday.

The penalties are imposed as part of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. School ratings are based on how well students do on Virginia's Standards of Learning tests.

Overall, performance across the state improved, as 80 percent of the 1,821 public schools met the benchmark -- an increase over last year's 74 percent pass rate. For the first time since the No Child Left Behind law was enacted, Virginia as a state met federal standards.

The law, enacted in 2002 to narrow the achievement gap between whites and ethnic minorities, imposes strict sanctions on "Title I" schools, which receive federal funds aimed at their high proportion of low-income students.

More than 300 schools across the state failed to meet federal guidelines, but because they receive no federal funds, sanctions are less severe. Those schools must devise improvement plans with their districts.

Penalties for the Title I schools are imposed because the schools failed to make what the federal government considers "adequate yearly progress" on standardized tests in the 2004-05 year or the previous school years. Making "AYP," as the term has become known among educators, means that a majority of all students -- as well as a majority of various subgroups, such as Hispanics and blacks -- passes the reading and math exams.

In Northern Virginia, several schools must allow students to transfer and must offer tutoring. In Arlington County, four schools -- Barcroft, Carlin Springs, Hoffman-Boston and Randolph elementary schools -- missed the mark for the third straight year and will be doubly sanctioned. Two other Arlington elementary schools, Abingdon and Barrett, reached the guideline but will need to allow transfers because they must make adequate progress for two years.

In Alexandria, school officials celebrated a major turnaround in test scores at Maury Elementary School, which had missed the federal targets for two straight years. This year, its passing rate in English increased by 20 percent and its math rate by 10 percent.

"I am very pleased to see that all of our schools have shown improvement," city School Superintendent Rebecca L. Perry said.

One elementary school, Jefferson-Houston, failed to make AYP for a third year and will be required to offer tutoring, a school spokeswoman said.

In Fairfax County, McNair Elementary School in Herndon failed to reach the standard for the third straight year and must offer tutoring; Dogwood Elementary in Reston did make AYP but needs another year to avoid having to offer tutors.

"If you look at last year's data, the schools have made significant gains across the board. This year, the schools have jumped it up big," said Pat Murphy, an assistant superintendent of Fairfax schools. "We take this very personally. These are not just numbers. . . . While we wish these [other] schools made AYP, we can't dismiss their hard work," he said.

In Prince William, Marumsco Hills Elementary in Woodbridge also made AYP, and it, too, will need to meet standards for another year to get off the state's "improvement" list.

In Loudoun, 93.5 percent of the 62 schools reached all the federal targets and none was sanctioned. Sharon D. Ackerman, assistant superintendent for instruction, said, "I feel good because more schools made AYP during a year in which we added three schools and because the expectations and the pass rates were increased."

The ultimate goal of the No Child Left Behind law is to make all students, no matter their race or economic status, proficient in math and reading by 2014. Every year until then, more and more students must pass their state's standardized exams for schools to avoid sanctions.

Virginia education officials said they were particularly pleased with this year's results because more schools performed better this year, for which the bar was set higher. But they said transferring students can sometimes make it more difficult for schools and can explain why many have to offer tutors.

For a school to make adequate yearly progress under this year's rubric, 65 percent of all students -- including special-education children, those with limited English and the economically disadvantaged -- must pass in reading and 63 percent must pass in math.

The rate for this year had been set at 70 percent for both subjects, but the federal government approved the lower rate this month after Virginia education officials requested that it be modified to show more gradual improvement.

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