Sign Exemption

Is Disheartening

It was encouraging to read "New Law Will Help County Crack Down on Illegal Signs" [Fairfax Extra, Feb. 27], which says we may see some relief from the illegal signs on Fairfax County public roads.

Then it was equally discouraging to read of the self-serving exemption from the regulations for political campaign signs. These are habitually the worst offenders, yet the legislators find it convenient to include an exception for their own purposes.

As an example, I have counted over 80 (yes, 80) "Vote for XX" signs in a single, two-block section of Columbia Pike near Mason District Park. In most cases there are multiple Popsicle-stick signs for the same candidate. At least the weight-loss folks exhibit the restraint to seldom put up more than one sign per block. I personally make mental notes of the offending political candidates in order to vote against them in the related elections.

Lee Johnson

Falls Church

Schools Should Be

Educating Parents

After reading the article about the county schools' shelter-in-place plans ["Parents Given Closer Look at Shelter Plan," Fairfax Extra, Feb. 27], I am inspired to comment.

If parents are confused or scared about the potential of being separated from their children in the event of a chemical accident or a chemical or biological attack, Fairfax County public schools should be educating them, not bowing to pressure and reducing their plan's capacity to "save our children."

One real world event neither the article or [the school district's] Web site addressed is the potential of parents being incapacitated or killed during any of these incident scenarios.

Even though I do not have children enrolled in county schools, I am sure that friends and co-workers do, and this potential situation, along with the schools' planned response to it, concerns me deeply. Perhaps there are additional details, of which school parents are being informed by more direct methods, but in that case the information should be added in bold to the frequently asked questions of the Web site.

The issue of long-term housing, sustaining and reuniting students with surviving parents or family members should be treated with deadly seriousness.

One thing I learned during my elementary and post-elementary education is to "prepare for the worst and hope for the best." If school staff and educators have not learned this axiom and taken it to heart, perhaps they need to go back to school.

Dennis Costea


'Grandfathers' Earn

Praise for Mentoring

I would like to praise the Grandfathers Group ["Men Show Boys Real Respect,"] Fairfax Extra, Feb. 20. This Alexandria-based nonprofit group matches African American male mentors 50 and older with African American boys.

It is not often that I read about mentors such as the "Grandfathers," who dedicate their time to youth development. By publishing this article, you have stressed the importance of mentor programs in fostering resiliency in children and strengthening the role of community in developing good citizens.

Newsworthy stories these days are focused on homeland security while many of America's children are suffering from a lack of security within their own homes and neighborhoods. Americans are being educated on how they can protect themselves from the possible terrorist attacks in the U.S. However, duct tape and plastic sheeting serve as no protection to children who face a threat of violence in their neighborhoods each and every day. Every three hours a child or teen is killed by gun violence, according to the Children's Defense Fund.

What will it take for the nation to be on "high alert" when it comes to ensuring each and every child safe places to live and positive role models? My guess is more volunteers like the "Grandfathers," who answer the call to duty and defend the rights of our youth to experience peace in childhood.

Sarah Davis


Women Voters League

Urges Diplomacy

The League of Women Voters of the Fairfax Area joins other state and local Leagues across the country in urging our national leaders to continue working with the United Nations to resolve the situation with Iraq.

International cooperation is an essential element in guarding against terrorism and protecting all nations from attack, particularly those that may involve nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.

The United Nations needs to be an important component of U.S. foreign policy. The U.S. should work actively and constructively within the U.N. system, exercising diplomatic leadership in advance of decision-making.

Working with the U.N. ensures a full and exhaustive debate and provides the legitimacy of international law. It assures the world that the U.S. is not acting solely for its benefit, while reassuring Americans that the U.S. is not acting alone. It also increases the chances of long-term success through international peacekeeping and nation-building efforts.

For decades, the League of Women Voters has supported the role of the U.N. in developing, maintaining and protecting peace around the world. Today, when multilateral action is needed to combat terrorism, to establish the institutions and conditions for real economic and social development in postwar Afghanistan and other countries, and to guard against weapons proliferation, the active involvement of the international community and the U.N. is even more important.

Olga Hernandez

president, League of Women

Voters of the Fairfax Area

Full Disclosure Needed

On IB Exam Scores

The Fairfax Extra recently carried a brief item from a Fairfax County Public School release about scores on the International Baccalaureate (IB) exams taken by students at nine county high schools ["County Students Excel on IB Tests," Jan. 23].

Apparently the county school system is about the only academic institution that does not differentiate between higher level and standard level IB exam scores.

Higher level IB courses are similar in difficulty to the Advanced Placement (AP) courses. Standard level IB courses are less demanding than the AP and the higher level IB courses. Most colleges and universities (including those overseas) award credit and/or advanced placement only for scores on the AP and the higher level IB exams. Most give very limited, if any, consideration to standard level IB exam scores.

To be fair and accurate in its report, county schools' should provide separate statistics for standard level and higher level IB exams.

The Web sites of most colleges and universities include criteria for awarding credit for Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams. Most colleges and universities will consider AP exam scores of 3 and above (on a scale of 1 to 5), and higher level IB exam scores of 5 and above (on a scale of 1 to 7).

More selective institutions only award credit for AP exam scores of 4 and 5, and higher level IB exam scores of 6 and 7, and will not consider any standard level IB exam scores. Some schools will not award any IB credit unless the student has earned the full IB diploma.

The county schools' criteria for passing scores are a 4 for IB exams and a 3 for AP exams. Data collected about the minimum scores needed to earn college credit in the core subjects of English, history, math, science and foreign language show that a score of 4 on an IB exam is not as widely accepted as the county school system would have us believe.

Information from eight Virginia universities shows that an Advanced Placement exam score of 3 has a 52 percent acceptance rate, a higher level IB exam score of 4 has a 33 percent acceptance rate, and a standard level IB exam score of 4 has a 2 percent acceptance rate.

Parents and students who do not have six-figure incomes or trust funds available for college tuitions will be interested in this distinction.

The advantages of obtaining college credit and/or advanced placement include the opportunity to enroll immediately in more advanced classes, the opportunity to place out of required basic courses and the possibility of earning a degree in less than four years. Since each college course costs hundreds or even thousands of dollars, the distinction between higher level and standard level IB exams becomes important.

In 2002 I asked an admissions officer at Mary Washington College why standard level IB exam scores received no consideration. He stated that professors at Mary Washington told him that they could not be sure what material had been covered in standard level IB courses because the curriculum was not standardized.

Other college admissions officers have told me that they consider standard level IB courses to be less rigorous than either higher level IB or Advanced Placement courses.

Advanced Placement courses are widely recognized by colleges and universities in the U.S. because the courses are aligned with first-year college courses. Even foreign institutes of higher learning award credit for AP courses.

The county's own data ( show that in 2002, 65 percent of the scores on the county's AP exams were a 3 and above. Data for each subject test includes mean scores for 2000, 2001 and 2002, and the percentage of scores at 3 and above.

Results are also compiled by ethnicity, gender and grade level. Students of every ethnic group saw an increase in overall scores and participation.

County students took their first IB exams in May 1995. The International Baccalaureate Organization separates higher level and standard level scores when it reports the results of each subject test to individual schools. It's time for county schools to provide full disclosure of IB exam results to parents, students and taxpayers by reporting higher level scores separately from standard level scores.

Anne Hall