An article in Loudoun Extra on Sunday ["7 County Schools Fail to Meet U.S. Goals"] said Seneca Ridge Middle School was listed as having not made "adequate yearly progress" in raising its Standards of Learning test scores for two consecutive years. The school made AYP last year. Potomac Falls High School was omitted from the list of those schools that did not make AYP for two years running. (Published 8/26/04)
Seven Loudoun County schools failed to make adequate progress this year in raising test scores under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, according to the results of Standards of Learning exams released Thursday. Ten missed the mark last year, the first in which Virginia measured school performance under the 2001 law.
The law requires that all students be "proficient" in math and reading by the 2013-14 school year, which in Virginia means passing SOL tests. Between now and then, schools must meet progressively higher targets. This year, schools needed to have 59 percent of students pass math tests and 61 percent pass reading exams.
Schools must also track groups of children separately, including low-income students, certain racial groups, disabled students and those with limited English skills. If even one group fails to hit the target, the school has not made "adequate yearly progress," or AYP.
School Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III said he was pleased with the county's progress. At the same time, he echoed the complaints of other educators across Virginia, calling the law's formula for measuring school success "seriously flawed."
He said he supports carefully analyzing the performance of every group of students, but he said it was unfair to make schools meet so many targets to escape being labeled as poor performers.
"To hold the whole school accountable for what often amounts to the performance of a very small number of children just doesn't make sense to me," he said.
The law also requires schools to count only a student's first attempt at any exam. In Virginia, many students who struggle receive additional help and end up passing on a second or third try. The state accreditation system, which has been the way schools have been judged for the last several years, counts such passes.
"Imagine if lawyers could only take the bar exam once," Hatrick said. "Imagine if you could only take your driving test once to get a license. I think it's so ridiculous, it's laughable."
He advocated revisions to the law but praised its overall intent. Hatrick said the only way to achieve success is to focus on helping individual students pass SOL tests.
The schools that did not make adequate yearly progress this year were Dominion High School, Harmony Intermediate School, Heritage High School, Park View High School, Potomac Falls High School, Seneca Ridge Middle School and Sterling Middle School.
Fauquier's two high schools, Fauquier and Liberty, were the only two of that county's 16 schools that failed to make adequate yearly progress. Both failed to make adequate progress last year, as well.
Secondary schools tend to fare worse than elementary schools against the law's exacting formula, in part because they are so much larger. A school does not have to hit targets for any group with fewer than 50 students taking the test.
There are no penalties for failing to make adequate progress for one year. A school that misses the mark for two consecutive years, however, is declared "in need of improvement" and must draw up plans to raise achievement. Those that receive federal funds for high poverty rates, so-called Title I money, must also allow students the option of transferring to higher-performing schools. Continually missing the mark brings on a crescendo of possible consequences, including possible curricular or staff changes.
None of Loudoun's 17 Title I schools made the "needs improvement" list. Four of Loudoun's other schools -- Heritage, Park View, Sterling and Seneca Ridge -- missed AYP for the second year and were placed on the needs improvement list, however. In Fauquier, none of the seven Title I schools made the list.
School Board member J. Warren Geurin (Sterling), who represents several of the Loudoun schools that did not measure up, countered Hatrick's criticism of the law. He said the law's benefits are clear: It is giving parents access to reams of data about school performance and forcing schools to concentrate on previously underserved groups.
"It's doing exactly that it's supposed to be doing, not just in Virginia but nationwide," he said. "The law is working as the Congress intended it to work."
He said he felt the school system was not adequately publicizing the fact that there are now county schools on the "needs improvement" list -- even if they are not Title I schools that will have to offer parents the opportunity to transfer their children. The fact was not mentioned on a county press release.
"These are excellent schools, and no one should hesitate to send their children" to them, Geurin said. "However, to pretend that they didn't not make AYP for two years in a row is masking the facts,"
Report cards for every public school in Virginia can be accessed at www.pen.k12.va.us.