Plans to assign each Fairfax County school an annual target for improving its standardized test scores won general support last night from School Board members.
But some members expressed concern that the district is over-emphasizing testing and that schools should not be expected to make specific gains in performance without additional resources.
Under the plan presented by Superintendent Daniel A. Domenech, each elementary school will be given an "achievement index"--a composite score based on its students' performance on the state Standards of Learning (SOL) exams and the Stanford 9 achievement test.
Each school will be expected to improve its achievement index by five points each year, and the goals will take effect this school year. Targets for middle and high schools, which also will be linked to test scores, will be announced next month.
Currently, only 20 of the 133 elementary schools would face consequences for failing to meet their targets. Those schools, called Project Excel schools, are among the lowest-performing and risk having their staffs replaced if they do not meet a set of achievement goals by 2002. But the schools will get financial rewards if they reach the targets. Project Excel schools are getting extra resources, including more teachers and more classroom hours to help them meet their goals.
Domenech said that if all schools make minimum gains of five points a year, all county schools--even the lowest-performing--will meet new state accreditation standards by the 2006-07 deadline.
He said the model allows an individual school to measure itself against its own performance and not against that of schools that might have different demographic profiles.
Board members approved the concept of setting school-by-school goals well over a year ago, and Domenech and his staff have been working since then on developing a model for doing so.
"This model provides a standard for each school, a standard that is attainable," said School Board Chairman Robert E. Frye Sr. (At Large). "It seems to me that this program is a real plus for us."
Board member Jane K. Strauss (Dranesville) said she is particularly pleased that the model relies on more than one achievement measure. She also pointed out that the Fairfax County Council of PTAs asked the school board in 1989 to set measurable goals for raising student achievement.
But board member Ernestine C. Heastie (Providence) said, "I don't want to go down a road where we judge a school only by its test scores." She said parent involvement and other criteria help present a fuller picture of what is happening in a school.
Heastie also expressed concern that the new targets would lead teachers to spend more time "teaching to the tests" at the expense of some of the more enriching curriculum.
But Domenech said clear, measurable goals are crucial if the district's schools are going to meet state standards.
"Clearly, what the state is saying to us is that no matter how involved parents are and how great your students are in music and art, come 2007, if they don't pass the history SOL they don't get a high school diploma," Domenech said. "Clearly, this focuses on the state mandates we have to deal with."
Board member Ilryong Moon (Braddock) questioned whether it is fair to ask all schools to meet the higher standards without giving them extra resources.
Domenech said he does indeed believe schools besides those in the Excel program should be expected to improve without new resources and said he would be disappointed if the board decided otherwise.
CAPTION: Superintendent Daniel A. Domenech wants each school to receive a composite score based on test results and then improve on it.