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Schools prep for new standards

School leaders across the Heart of Virginia are working toward meeting new requirements following the Virginia Board of Education’s Nov. 16 approval of revisions to standards schools must meet for state accreditation and requirements students must meet to earn a high school diploma.

According to a Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) press release, the revisions to the board’s Standards of Accreditation are designed to encourage continuous improvement for all schools while placing increased emphasis on closing achievement gaps between student groups and providing a more comprehensive view of school quality.

“For students, the revised regulations reduce the number of Standards of Learning (SOL) tests they need to pass to earn a diploma,” officials said in the release. “The new standards also implement the ‘Profile of a Virginia Graduate,’ a set of expectations that includes increased emphasis on developing critical thinking, creative thinking, communication, collaboration and citizenship skills, in addition to academic achievement in English, mathematics, science and history.”

The release cited that under the revised standards, schools — beginning in 2018-19 — would be rated as either “Accredited” or “Accredited with Conditions” based on performance in relation to multiple school quality indicators.

“New indicators would include progress made by students toward proficiency in English and mathematics, achievement gaps in both subjects, absenteeism and dropout rates,” officials said in the release. “Schools that fail to implement state-required improvement plans could be rated as ‘Accreditation Denied.’”

According to the release, the new diploma requirements would take effect with students entering the ninth grade next fall. Course requirements for both the Advanced Studies Diploma and the Standard Diploma would remain the same, but the number of required verified credits would be reduced to five — one each in English reading, English writing, mathematics, science and history/social science. In addition, schools would be required to provide opportunities for students to learn about career options aligned with their interests in their own communities and elsewhere.

Dr. Cecil Snead

“Fortunately, our forward-thinking in Buckingham positions us well to continue movement in the direction the state requires,” said Buckingham County Public Schools (BCPS) Superintendent Dr. Cecil Snead. “Our high school and CTE programs continue to successfully grow in the metrics currently measured.”

He said additional emphasis, as presented by the state, seems to be on more pragmatic opportunities for students in skills necessary to be successful: critical thinking, creativity, communication, citizenship and collaboration.

“This is a good thing, because our students deserve emphasis on their individual talents so they can have a platform to develop their skills,” Snead said.

Snead said one example was a trip to Norfolk this week in which he accompanied 54 students on a tour of shipyards to expose them to opportunities “as to how they can apply their skillset they’ve learned with their Buckingham instructors.”

“We hope to explore more partnerships that will enable our students to be successful contributors to society,” Snead said.

He said the guidance staff has already started working toward redefining their roles.

“As for me, I continue communication with the state to emphasize that proper implementation and support from their level is critical to our success; because smaller school systems don’t have large departments to carry the load like larger systems do for such change,” Snead said. “I will continue that message with the state for my students and staff to ensure that our students are afforded these opportunities. It’s an exciting time to believe that we are on the cusp of positive change for our students.”

Dr. Amy Griffin

Cumberland County Public Schools (CCPS) Superintendent Dr. Amy Griffin said that the division has already begun planning on how to redesign the PK-12 learning experience so that it “will truly prepare students to be future-ready.”

“The profile includes the importance of content, career exploration, workplace skills and opportunities and the five C’s — communication, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity and citizenship,” Griffin said.

She said technology is rapidly changing the rate and the way in which people access content, the workplace and lifestyles, so “therefore, the school experience must change in order for our students to be prepared and live productive and independent lives.”

“The new accreditation matrix provides the beginning to much-needed changes so that the primary focus is not just on high-stakes SOL testing,” Griffin said. “While there will still be SOL testing and criteria based on the scores to meet for accreditation, there is an emphasis on growth and (on) a more balanced approach to assessment with the inclusion of some performance-based assessments, which is a more applicable way to show knowledge of content.”

She said that with the profile and the new accreditation matrix, there is also an emphasis on necessary workplace skills and opportunities for internships and apprenticeships as learning experiences for students.

“With change, there always will be challenges,” Griffin said. “Internship and apprenticeship opportunities will be a challenge; however, with support and partnerships within our county and surrounding counties, we will make this happen for our students.”

She said she also saw the addition of the chronic absenteeism benchmark to be a challenge.

“However, we plan to find ways to inspire students to want to come to school by making learning more applicable and relevant, as well as by working with families,” Griffin said. “We currently have design teams in place to meet the expectations of the Profile of a Virginia Graduate and welcome students, parents and community members to serve on them.”

According to Griffin, the teams are Career Exploration, Workplace Skills and Opportunities, the Five C’s and Citizenship and Service Learning. She said individuals may contact her at agriffin@cucps.k12.va.us if they would like to participate on a design team.

Dr. Barbara Johnson

Prince Edward County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Barbara Johnson said the new accreditation standards recognize student growth, “which is vital to learning and often not highlighted.”

“We fully support the changes,” Johnson said. “Our primary focus continues to be on providing an instructional environment that facilitates critical and creative thinking in all content areas while developing our STEM and workforce development programs.”

She said the Profile of a Virginia Graduate is in alignment with the division’s focus.

“We are truly invested in this redesign,” Johnson said.

“Under these new standards, schools will be rewarded for the success of students who are on a trajectory toward meeting Virginia’s high expectations, even if they are not quite there yet,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Steven R. Staples. “This addresses an inequity in our current system which sometimes labels schools serving children in poverty as failing when in fact students are making great strides and showing high growth from one year to the next.”