Dear Extra Credit:

Many families are not allowed bus service to Union Mill Elementary School in Clifton because the county says the families live within a mile's walk.

However, the school is counting a walkway that takes the students off Virginia Department of Transportation streets and into wooded and secluded back yards on an unsupervised path owned by the community. The homeowners association has asked Fairfax County public schools not to count this as a walkway because it says it is impossible to maintain this path in inclement weather (it is never plowed or treated for ice), that it's strictly for recreational use, and that the association can't guarantee the safety of the walkway.

I have left messages for school officials, but my phone calls have not been returned.

If the school district deems this walkway as safe, could it at least have school patrols on the paths it expects students to walk on?

Stephanie Hoover

Clifton

Fairfax County schools spokesman Paul Regnier says transportation and safety staff members evaluate walking routes to determine whether they are safe. They have concluded that the path you mention, owned by the homeowners association, is a safe route.

"While the path might not be cleared adequately after winter storms, this is also true of most sidewalks in Fairfax County," Regnier said. "This fact in and of itself is not sufficient to determine that a path is unsafe for students to use to walk to school.

"We expect parents to play a role in ensuring that their children are safe going to and coming from school. This means that parents should escort their children to and from bus stops and while walking to school.

"If this is not possible, parents should make arrangements with other parents or older students. By working together, parents, students and the school system can greatly enhance the safety of our children."

Dear Extra Credit:

What does AYP mean, and how is it measured?

Michele Menapace

Parent at Rose Hill Elementary

in the Alexandria section of Fairfax County

AYP stands for adequate yearly progress, the statistic that determines if your school will be labeled as "needing improvement" under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. It is the minimum level of achievement that states, districts and individual schools must reach, and over time it gets higher, with the unreachable and likely to be rewritten but politically expedient target of 100 percent proficiency in 2014.

Each state uses its own tests to determine how many children have reached academic proficiency and makes its own rules about what proficiency means, although the U.S. Education Department can reject state plans.

Virginia uses results on the Standards of Learning tests and defines the current pass rate that schools much achieve as 59 percent on the math test and 61 percent on the reading test. The portion of students reaching that level in each of seven subgroups must increase at the prescribed level of AYP each year, with some exceptions, such as in subgroups that are very small. At least 95 percent of the members of each subgroup must take the test. If a subgroup fails to reach that participation rate, that, too, can cause a school to miss its AYP target.

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