Prince William County

The following were among actions taken at the Oct. 3 meeting of the Prince William County School Board. For more information, call 791-8720.

ACHIEVEMENT GOALS -- Prince William County schools have made some progress and had some setbacks in their efforts to improve student academic achievement by the 1993-1994 school year, according to reports presented to the School Board at the meeting.

The goals were established by the School Board two years ago under a six-year plan to improve all aspects of county schools, from their administration and facilities to teaching and learning.

Among the goals are to improve students' results on reading and mathematic portions of two standardized tests -- the Iowa Test of Basic Skills and the Criterion Reference Test. Currently, most students are scoring below their grade levels on those tests. Another goal is to have all students pass the state's Literacy Passport test, which is administered for the first time in sixth grade, by the time they reach eighth grade. Students currently must pass the literacy test in order to enter ninth grade. Between 79.6 to 87.2 percent of students now pass the three-part test in reading, math and writing.

Under the improvement plan, each school develops its own techniques or programs. For example, to help narrow the gap between the academic achievement of white and minority students, one middle school last year encouraged more minority students to get involved in sports and after-school activities and provided remedial help for those lagging behind academically.

In most grades and subjects, the gap between white and minority students has remained the same or widened since 1987, even though the average test scores of minority students have increased dramatically in some years.

For example, the average performance of seventh grade minority students on the Criterion Referenced Test (CRT) jumped from scoring in the 26th percentile nationally in the 1987-1988 school year to the 58 percentile last year. But the gap between their scores and those of white seventh graders on the same section of the CRT increased three percentage points to 16 percentage points last year.

On a few exams the gap has narrowed. In the 1987-1988 school year, ninth grade minority students scored in 15th percentile nationally on the algebra section of the CRT, while white ninth graders scored in the 31st percentile. Last year, ninth grade minorites scored in the 70th percentile and white students in the 75th percentile.

Two setbacks, officials said, have been a slight decrease in student scores on college entrance exams and a slight increase in school drop-out rates.

Other successes in meeting the goals have included: an increase in the number of national merit semi-finalists from 43 in 1987 to 47 last year; across the board increases in the percentage of all students scoring above the 50th percentile on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, which is given to grades 2, 4, 8 and 11; and some higher scores by all students at several grade levels on both reading and writing and math sections on the CRT.

City of Manassas Park

The following was among actions taken at the Oct. 3 meeting of the Manassas Park School Board. For more information, call 335-8850.

FEDERAL GRANT -- The School Board accepted a four-year, $716,000 grant from the federal Department of Education to fund a pilot program under which George Mason University will help develop innovative educational programs in the city's schools.

The partnership grant follows a review of Manassas Park schools last year by George Mason's Center For Applied Research and Development in Education (CARD). The review was commissioned by the City Council to assess the 1,300-student school system, which ranks among the lowest in Northern Virginia in student test scores.

Several recommendations resulting from the report, which cost the city $12,900, were to streamline the administration and to spend more money on educational faclities and teacher salaries to help stem a high teacher turnover rate.

With the grant money, the Institute for Educational Transformation (IET), an outgrowth of CARD, will work with the Manassas Park school system. A core of seven IET professors will head the partnership program. Two area firms, Signal Hill Development Corp. and International Business Machines (IBM), also have agreed to sponsor additional research by IET.

Possible new programs for the schools include pairing beginning teachers with experienced teachers; encouraging student internships at local businesses; encouraging adults and professionals in the community to volunteer as aids or tutors for some classes; taking learning outside the classroom, such as monitoring a creek for a science class; and finding new ways of assessing student success, apart from the regular grading system.

Eventually IET plans to provide teaching courses in the Manassas Park schools for the university's student teachers as well as in-school internships for older students interested in teaching.