By SHANNON WATKINS
The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) announced yesterday the percentage of Virginia schools that meet state accreditation standards dropped with the introduction of new reading, writing and science Standard of Learning (SOL) tests during 2012-2013, as well as a second year of results from a more challenging math assessment.
In the 2012-2013 academic year, 93 percent of Virginia’s schools were rated as fully accredited; in 2013-2014 it fell to 77 percent. The number of schools accredited with warning nearly quadrupled to 395, and six schools, in Alexandria, Norfolk and Petersburg, have been denied state accreditation because of chronically low achievement.
Under legislation proposed by Governor Bob McDonnell and approved by the 2013 General Assembly, the six schools denied accreditation are subject to the authority of the state’s newly created Opportunity Educational Institution (OEI). The law gives OEI the power to manage these schools in whatever manner it determines as most likely to achieve full state accreditation, including conversion to charter schools or college laboratory schools.
“Over the last five years, the accreditation bar has been raised through the introduction of more rigorous curriculum standards and challenging new assessments that test students’ problem-solving and critical-thinking skills as well as their content knowledge,” VDOE Superintendent of Public Instruction Patricia I. Wright said. “In addition, the benchmark pass rates required for full accreditation have increased, and high schools must meet goals for improving graduation rates.”
“The focus of the SOL program has shifted to the ambitious but vital goal of college and career readiness for all students,” Board of Education President David M. Foster said. “Temporary declines in SOL scores and accreditation ratings are signs that the commonwealth is expecting more, not that students are learning less.”
The new reading and writing SOL tests were a factor for 146 schools warned in English; 32 of these are accredited with warning for 2013-2014 solely because of English. Another 495 schools relied on three-year averaging to reach the benchmark for English and achieve full accreditation.
For a school now to earn full accreditation, at least 75 percent of students must pass reading and writing SOL tests, and at least 70 percent must pass state assessments in mathematics, science and history. High schools must also meet a benchmark for graduation. Previously, the reading and writing benchmark in middle and high schools was 70 percent and the required pass rate in third grade science and history was 50 percent.
The legislation also gives OEI the authority, upon a majority vote of its governing board, to supervise and operate 19 schools that have been accredited with warning for three consecutive years.
“The vast majority of warned schools turn around before losing state accreditation as school boards, administrators, teachers and parents pull together and, with assistance from the commonwealth, focus their efforts on improving instruction and raising achievement to state standards,“ said Virginia Secretary of Education Laura Fornash. “By achieving full accreditation for 2014-2015, these 19 schools would no longer face potential transfer to OEI.”
None of the 19 schools are located in Southwest Virginia.
Under Virginia’s SOL accountability program, a school that has been on academic warning for three consecutive years and fails to meet state standards for a fourth consecutive year can apply to the Board of Education for conditional accreditation — if the local school board agrees to reconstitute the school’s leadership, staff, governance or student population. A reconstituted school can retain conditional accreditation for up to three years if it is making acceptable progress toward meeting state standards.
All schools are fully accredited in 36 of the commonwealth’s 132 school divisions, down from 87 last year. Southwest Virginia divisions with all schools fully accredited are Floyd County, Franklin County, Giles County, Lexington, Norton, Patrick County, Roanoke County, Salem and Wise County.
Updated accreditation ratings for 2013-2014 for all schools are available on the VDOE website.