The Virginia Board of Education is considering several changes to basic standards for public schools, including bolstering efforts to ensure that students learn material in the state's Standards of Learning exams and requiring schools to develop a plan to encourage parental involvement.
The state's Standards of Quality, which lay out Virginia's definition of a basic education for public school students, are reviewed every two years. A public meeting on the suggested revisions, one of several such meetings statewide and the only one in Northern Virginia, was Thursday in the Falls Church area.
Gary L. Jones, a member of the state board, said the proposed changes largely are intended to ensure that Virginia provides accurate and timely data about student achievement to the federal government as required by the No Child Left Behind law. He said the changes, if approved, likely will have little effect on Northern Virginia schools.
"I think you'll find the changes we're asking, Northern Virginia school systems already are largely in compliance with," Jones said. "They may have some better ideas than we have, and we're open to those changes."
The recommended revisions include requiring that school systems develop a curriculum designed to teach students the skills needed to pass the SOL exams, a standard that Jones said is already followed by most of Virginia's school districts. In Virginia, scores on the SOL exams determine whether schools meet the standards set out by the No Child Left Behind Act.
Another new provision would call on superintendents to make sure reports required by state and federal law outlining student progress are submitted on time.
Thomas M. Jackson Jr., president of the state Board of Education, said the most significant change would require school systems to conduct data-driven assessments of student progress, which he said most districts already do.
Jackson said such data are used to monitor the progress of classes and even individual students. For instance, Jackson said, he recently learned that nearly all students in a class got the same question wrong on an SOL exam. The teacher was told of the results and added more instruction on the topic the next year.
Charles B. Pyle, spokesman for the Virginia Department of Education, said the cost of implementing the changes would be minimal. A dollar figure has not been determined, he said.
Because Virginia helps pay basic education costs, the standards help determine the state's share of education spending.
The most recent changes to the Standards of Quality, which came this year, marked the first changes to the state's definition of basic education in 15 years.
Jones said that during the last revision the board focused on changes in classrooms that required additional state funding. Those changes resulted in more state money to hire additional elementary art, music and physical education teachers and to add high school staff members to allow teachers more planning time.
The Virginia General Assembly last session included about $340 million in its education budget to meet the new Standards of Quality, Jones said.
Lynn Terhar, president of the Fairfax County Council of PTAs, said the group supports a provision that would require schools to seek parental involvement in the development of long-range plans for services and student achievement. She said she has heard little reaction from members about other proposed changes.
Terhar said she supports regular reviews of the standards.
"Things are changing quickly," she said. "I think the Board of Education needs to be responsive."
The board is scheduled to vote on the proposed changes next month, and the General Assembly also must approve any amendment.