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State Waiver Will Have Local Impact

PRINCE EDWARD – Virginia has its waiver from the U.S. Department of Education for flexibility under what is now known as the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

What will it mean?

“It is significant,” Division Superintendent Dr. David Smith said of the waiver's impacts at the July school board meeting. “It will have a significant impact on us.”

Dr. Smith further detailed a meeting with the director of the office of school improvement at the Department of Education. The high school, which is in its third year of the mandated turnaround program that carries increased scrutiny, expectations and federal funds to aid in school improvement, will automatically be designated a priority school.

“It won't have the designation of turnaround school,” Dr. Smith said. “After the third year, any sanctions that exist will be based on overall performance as measured by the state-level standards. And believe that we are strongly on track to meet or exceed those standards with the…data that we're seeing on SOL pass rates and on the initial, not yet confirmed by the state numbers about graduation that show a significant increase in our graduation rate over last year.”

The superintendent offered that they are “cautiously optimistic,” adding that it's “important to keep an eye on the language of the waiver as it applies to us. And some of this is still…a work in progress. It is still being defined and, over the next few weeks, we'll know a whole lot more from Richmond.”

An Overview

While the full details of the impact on specific schools and divisions is expected in the coming weeks on the two-year flexibility waiver, Director of Curriculum and Instruction Laura Williamson in a presentation to the school board on the state waiver offered some highlights:

*Schools had been required to achieve a 100 percent pass rate for reading and math in 2013-14. The waiver allows the Virginia Department of Education and Board of Education to set those targets for all students and each subgroup.

*Annual benchmarks will be set with the goal of reducing the failure rate over six years by 50 percent in reading and math. (Incremental targets are unknown.)

*No school divisions know their current status, Ms. Williamson cited. That information, she added, will be provided over the next few weeks.

*The Department of Education will identify schools in several areas-and will continue to reward schools in several categories.

*Ten percent of the state's Title I schools (deemed Focus Schools) will be identified in three proficiency gap groups, as well as the individual sub groups. (According to a press release from the State Department of Education, Focus Schools and what would be called Priority Schools are subject to state-approved and monitored improvement interventions.)

“They're looking at the difference between the overall performance and the achievement gap and the progress in closing that gap,” Ms. Williamson cited.

One proficiency gap group includes students with disabilities, English language learners, and economically disadvantaged students; a second gap group includes African American students, including those factored in gap one; and the third gap group is Hispanic students including those in gap group one.

Ms. Williamson also detailed that five percent of Title I schools will be identified as Priority Schools, based on reading and math performance and graduation completion rates. She noted that the high school will be a Priority School for the coming year, but may exit after the year.

*Under the waiver, schools must implement the uniform performance standards and evaluation criteria approved by the Board of Education last year.

“And this is very significant because 40 percent of a teacher's evaluation must be based on student achievement data in this upcoming year…and the next year 40 percent of a principal's evaluation will be determined by the student academic progress-the students in the building,” Ms. Williamson said. “This is a very significant action, but it's also true that we've been working with our teachers in core and non-core areas in identifying the multiple measures that would be used as the assessments for it to be able to meet the standard. Also required is that all evaluations must result in a summative rating.”

*While Ms. Williamson noted they don't think it will impact Prince Edward, if they have less than 30 (instead of 50) students in a group or subgroup, the data would not be reported under the federal accountability measures, but would be counted in the all students group.

*Title I sanctions under No Child Left Behind have been waived and public school choice and supplemental education services will cease. (Schools that had not met specific benchmarks were tasked with such requirements.) In addition, priority schools will be expected to implement an intervention model aligned with the U.S. Department of Education turnaround principle. Focus Schools will be expected to implement intervention that address the performance of the proficiency gap group.

*State accreditation will continue.

A news release from the state department of education notes that new annual objectives in reading and math will replace Adequate Yearly Progress targets that schools were required to meet under No Child Left Behind legislation. With the waiver, annual measurable objectives have been set for student groups, including the new proficiency gap group that includes students who have historically had difficulty meeting state achievement standards.

According to the press release, annual reading benchmarks for the first year of flexibility are based on achievement on 2010-11 state assessments; math benchmarks are based on achievement during 2011-12.

Cambridge Strategies

Meanwhile, Cambridge Education, which has worked with the school division as part of the turnaround program to improve student achievement at the high school, in a separate school board presentation, offered specific strategies for the coming year.

Of the 128 Title I schools, the County's high school ranked in the lowest five percent among those authorized, but which do not receive Title I funds and was designated in the turnaround program. The criteria weighed for the designation factored academic achievement of all students in reading and math and that a school has not reduced its failure rate in reading/language arts and/or mathematics by 10-15 percent each year for the past two years.

School officials were tasked with certain criteria with the designation and selected Cambridge Education as their lead turnaround partner. The firm has been assisting the school and providing regular reports at school board meetings. Federal funds, totaling about $500,000 in each of three budgeted years, fuel the turnaround effort and are aimed at helping the school to improve.

Cambridge consultant Dr. Harold Lawson, in a draft presentation, highlighted goals for the coming school year and strategies including:

*Increasing reading to the 95th percentile next year. It is currently at 87.5 percent. Another goal is to decrease the achievement gap by 15 percent by the end of 2012-13. They also hope to improve reading performance. Dr. Lawson noted that students will read more often because of teacher initiated assignments.

“If teachers are teaching kids how to read in all classes then the reading performance should go up among our students and the SOL scores will go up,” Dr. Lawson said.

*Moving math from the 66th to the 90th percentile. While Dr. Lawson offered that it seems like a big jump, he also noted that he is “firmly convinced, I am confident that we can make that happen.” He added that they can do it together.

*Moving science scores to the 95th percentile.

“We can do that,” Dr. Lawson offered. “We saw a big jump in science this year. We saw the achievement gap close some in science.”

*Two years ago, he cited, they had a new test for social studies so the scores dropped, improved and next year Dr. Lawson said they think they will be at the 90th percentile.

*Increasing attendance to 96 percent. (He noted policy revision to address class absences and children leaving school early. He noted that they plan to monitor the implementation of that policy.) They also want to reduce the incidents of misconduct by 50 percent and involve a minimum of 50 percent of the parents in school activities.

Dr. Lawson outlined specific strategies in the area of reading to improve scores.

“…We feel very positively that we can move this score with the entire division, the school and the central office working together,” Dr. Lawson said of reading.

Among the strategies were that lessons include a reading component (if it's included in all areas, he offered, reading scores should go up); lesson plans show connections to real world application; have teachers doing an outstanding job to teach other teachers to bring the whole staff up; every teacher will plan reading in as many lesson plans as possible; and have teachers share strategies.

Dr. Lawson also detailed specific strategies for other core subject areas, which included targeting improved classroom instruction.

The school theme this year will be “I believe.”