Teachers and administrators at Alexandria's only public high school, T.C. Williams, have outlined an ambitious program to help minority students who scored poorly on national standardized tests.
The newly designed program places more emphasis on helping the poorest performing students rather than trying to narrow the academic gap between all minority and white students. The program is part of School Superintendent Paul Masem's new minority achievement policy for Alexandria's 16 public schools.
About 63 percent of the city's 9,475 public school students are minority students, many from disadvantaged and non-English speaking homes. There are 950 minority students at T.C. Williams. The program focuses on those who scored in the bottom third of the tests.
Earlier this fall, school officials had estimated that 773 of T.C. Williams' approximately 2,300 students would qualify for the individualized minority achievement program. The revised figure is now 376 students. Tony Hanley, executive director for secondary education, said the drop was caused by students who transferred out of the school system.
Although school administrators are ironing out the details for the final version of each school's minority achievement program, Hanley said for T.C. Williams "there are no major differences between the revised and final version." Final versions on all the schools' plans are expected to be presented to School Board members for review Dec. 3.
"Identifying each student and developing a specific program for them is the best part of the new program," Hanley explained. "In the past the students were not identified by name at the high school level; it was a general plan for all minority students." However, white students who score low in the bottom third of national standardized tests also are included in newly designed achievement plan.
Hanley said about a third of the teachers at T.C. Williams will be affected by the program, which requires them to draw up specialized plans for each student's learning needs. The draft plan lists 22 steps that must to be carried out by July 1988 for math improvement, and 21 steps for reading improvement.
The steps include department heads meeting with teachers of targeted students to review the student's progress, training students in how to take tests, training teachers on the importance of teacher attitudes and how they relate to test success in students, and holding meetings between teachers and parents.
"We have not added any staff for the program, but we have shifted some positions. School psychologists and social workers will participate in small group discussions, individual counseling and home visits that will be part of the written plan," Hanley explained.
For the first time in more than a decade, according to Hanley, T.C. Williams will have two reading teachers to help students in the minority achievement program.
"Yes, this will be extra work for the teachers," Hanley said. "Basically they'll be doing a lot of the things they're doing now. But they've never put it in writing before." Hanley said he has not had any complaints from teachers about the new program.
"I think we're getting it down to the level where you can really make a difference and that's what we need to concentrate on. I'm really looking forward to working with the kids," said John Porter, principal of T.C. Williams High School.
Masem took a tough stand in responding to a parent who complained at the Nov. 5 School Board meeting that the new program was causing a great deal of anxiety among teachers who fear it will create extra work and stress.
"Anxiety can be good and it can be bad," Masem said, " . . . The public has always had the expectation that students learn to read and compute, and teachers are paid to teach students to read and compute.
"At this point we have a large number of students who can't read or compute, and until we all focus on what is causing this we aren't doing the jobs expected of us, and we should be concerned about that."