The Virginia Department of Education has published its school performance data and identified schools that made its Priority and Focus lists. Thirty-seven schools performed poorly enough to be classified as Priority, meaning that they will need to work with state-approved partners to design turnaround programs that meet with state and federal requirements. An additional 73 schools have been designated as Focus, and will be hiring state-approved coaches that will help them improve their academic performance.
The two designations were defined as part of Virginia’s federal two-year waiver from the provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act granted to the state by the US Department of Education in 2012. The waiver requires that Virginia designate the schools falling in the bottom 5% for performance as Priority, and another 10% as Focus.
The waiver also sets annual measurable objectives (AMOs) for narrowing achievement gaps in reading, mathematics and high school graduation rates. The AMOs serve as yearly progress goals for students in low-performing schools. Higher-performing schools are to improve or maintain achievement levels.
“It is important to consider the increased rigor of Virginia’s new reading and mathematics Standards of Learning (SOL) tests before making conclusions about schools that missed annual objectives,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Patricia I. Wright said. “Virginia has raised the bar to prepare students for the realities of the 21st century. Our challenge — from the superintendent’s office to the classroom — is to make sure students have the instruction and interventions they need to achieve the commonwealth’s college- and career-ready expectations, regardless of who they are or where they live.”
Alexandrian News reports that more than 40% of Virginia schools met the objectives set out in the waiver, including one school that subsequently ended up on the Focus list. Because the state is required to designate a certain percentage of schools as Focus and Priority every year, it’s not impossible for a school to meet those objectives and still end up on the dreaded list. In total, 459 Virginia schools, or 25%, will need to adopt improvement plans because they failed to meet one of the benchmarks. Those that met all the standards – and weren’t designated as either Focus or Priority – will not have to do anything.
The AMOs represent the percentage of students within each demographic subgroup that must pass SOL tests in reading and mathematics in order to make what the state board and USED define as acceptable progress toward reducing — and ultimately closing achievement — gaps. High schools must also meet benchmarks for raising graduation rates.
“In setting the objectives, the Board of Education started with actual achievement on the new SOLs in our lowest-performing schools and then created goals that require the students who are farthest behind to make the largest annual gains,” Board of Education President David M. Foster said. “The AMOs are challenging but achievable goals that, if met, will considerably reduce achievement gaps, while holding schools accountable for continuous improvement for all students.”