Theories on Why Black Students in Fairfax Trail Virginia Peers

By Jay Mathews
Thursday, October 20, 2005

Dear Extra Credit:

Admission to Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology depends in large part on academic achievement ["In Jefferson's New Class, Incomes Seem to Count," Extra Credit, Sept. 29], but achievement for black students in Fairfax is lagging that of blacks in other Virginia districts.

A study by Maria Casby Allen, a Fairfax school system parent, found that on the 2004 fifth-grade Standards of Learning test in reading, pass rates for black students were 85 percent in suburban Chesterfield County outside Richmond and 79 percent in Richmond and Norfolk. Only 74 percent passed in Fairfax County.

On the math test, 80 percent of black students passed in Chesterfield County, 75 percent in Richmond, 70 percent in Norfolk and 63 percent in Fairfax.

The No Child Left Behind Act requires school districts to report test scores by ethnic group. The scores show that other districts have made far more progress in improving achievement among minorities than Fairfax has. On all eight SOL tests given in the elementary grades in reading, math, science and social studies, scores for Fairfax black students were the lowest among the state's suburban districts with 10,000 or more black students (Chesterfield, Henrico, Prince William, Chesapeake and Virginia Beach), and lower than in the high-poverty districts of Richmond, Hampton and Norfolk.

The state's other districts have taken action to improve achievement among minorities. For example, all of those districts received federal grants of $1 million per school to improve reading instruction at Title I (high-poverty) schools. Those districts have used the funds to help children.

Fairfax Superintendent Jack D. Dale recently complained that federal officials need to finance school reforms.

However, Fairfax did not apply for the new federal reading funding for six of seven eligible schools. One school, Bucknell Elementary, was granted federal funding but this year dropped the program. The feds sent a check. Fairfax sent it back.

Repeatedly over the past 10 years, Fairfax teachers have cited test scores to show that our programs are not working, especially for minority students. Fairfax administrators, however, have opposed using programs proven elsewhere in place of locally written curriculums that keep local administrators employed.

This is not just a minority or TJ issue. On the 2004 SOL test in Algebra II, Fairfax scores for all students ranked at about the state average. Our chemistry SOL scores ranked in the bottom 40 percent.

All of our children deserve a Jefferson-quality education.

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