RD348 - 2007 Annual Report on the Condition and Needs of Public Schools in Virginia

Executive Summary:
With its comprehensive plan of action as its roadmap, the Board is focused on critical areas of concern: finding new and effective ways to help struggling schools, emphasizing the benefits of early learning programs, eliminating the achievement gap, having a high-quality teacher in every classroom, improving reading and literacy for every student at every grade, and keeping young people in safe, orderly schools until they graduate. For the Board of Education, the goal is clear: All children can achieve at high levels.

Student academic progress: Virginia’s public schools and our students continue to show overall academic gains and receive national recognition for achievement and innovation. Highlights include:

• Seven out of ten of Virginia’s public schools met or exceeded increased No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) achievement objectives in reading and mathematics during the 2006-2007 school year. Overall achievement in both subjects increased compared with the previous year.

• Results from testing in 2006-2007 also showed that high school students increased their achievement on all Standards of Learning (SOL) tests in English reading, English writing, mathematics, history and science required for graduating with a Standard or Advanced Studies diploma.

• Ninety-one percent of Virginia public schools are fully accredited and meeting state standards for student achievement in English, mathematics, history/social science and science based on 2006-2007 assessment results.

• Results from the 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) show that the reading and mathematics skills of Virginia students continue to improve and that the commonwealth’s students remain among the nation’s highest achievers in these subjects.

• The College Board this year, in its annual Advanced Placement Report to the Nation, celebrated Virginia’s entry into the select handful of states in which 20 percent or more of high school seniors achieve a grade of 3 or better on at least one AP examination. In doing so, The College Board also recognized Virginia for narrowing the “equity gap” and progress for African-American and Hispanic students.

• 2006 marked the third consecutive year in which more of our students graduated with an Advanced Studies Diploma than a Standard Diploma.

Objectives of the Board of Education: The Board of Education’s priorities for action are:

OBJECTIVE 1: The Board of Education will continue to enhance the quality standards for all public schools in Virginia.

OBJECTIVE 2: The Board of Education will provide leadership to help schools and school divisions eliminate the achievement gap between groups of students and increase the academic success of all students.

OBJECTIVE 3: The Board of Education will support accountability for all schools, focusing on assisting chronically low-performing schools and school divisions while recognizing all schools and school divisions as they move towards excellence.

OBJECTIVE 4: The Board of Education will work cooperatively with partners to help ensure that all young children are ready to enter kindergarten with the skills they need for success.

OBJECTIVE 5: The Board of Education will establish policies that support the attainment of literacy skills of all students, kindergarten through grade 12.

OBJECTIVE 6: The Board of Education will establish policies and standards that enhance the preparation, recruitment, and retention of educational personnel, including their meaningful, ongoing professional development.

OBJECTIVE 7: The Board of Education will provide leadership in implementing the provisions of state and federal laws and regulations.

OBJECTIVE 8: The Board of Education will provide leadership to help schools and school divisions ensure a safe and secure environment conducive to facilitating the teaching and learning process.

The Board’s performance measures: The Board outlines its objectives for the coming years, all of which are directed to address the critical areas of need for the public schools in Virginia. The Board’s performance measures are highlighted and include the following:

A Troublesome Achievement Gap: In Virginia, schools in which at least 50 students in a particular subgroup participate in statewide testing are held accountable for purposes of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. In one-quarter of these schools, pass rates for economically disadvantaged students are more than 10 percent lower than all students in the same schools; in more than half of these schools, pass rates for economically disadvantaged students are more than 5 percentage points lower than the pass rate for all students.

The data are similarly troublesome for schools that are held accountable for minority students. African American and Hispanic students have pass rates that are more than 10 percent lower than all students in 18 and 43 percent of schools, respectively. Furthermore, economically disadvantaged students and minority students are less likely than all students to graduate in four years. In 2005-2006, 74 percent of all students who enrolled in 9th grade four years earlier graduated. Using the same calculation, only 53 percent of economically disadvantaged students, and 61 and 62 percent of African American and Hispanic students, respectively, graduated in four years.

Safe and Healthy Environments for Students and Teachers: A high priority for the Board is dealing effectively with the realities of schooling for some children who face difficult personal circumstances such as high poverty, high crime in their neighborhoods, high rates of unhealthy behaviors, poor nutrition, and other circumstances that obstruct their learning at school. The Board of Education must assist local divisions by providing solid, workable guidelines and policies to assist those who are responsible for the health and safety of students and staff while they are at school, on school grounds, on their way to or from school, and involved in school-sponsored activities.

In 2007, the Virginia Department of Education unveiled a new, online resource to help educators and administrators analyze safety data as they develop and review plans to protect children, improve discipline and enhance security. The new Safe Schools Information Resource (SSIR) also broadens public access to school-safety data and provides an easy-to-use tool for creating reports and comparing data for schools and divisions. The Board must continue to stress the importance of successful, community-wide partnerships in the development of procedures and policies that most effectively support healthy, safe, orderly and disciplined school environments.

The Need to Assist Chronically Low-Performing Schools

Aggressive interventions by the Virginia Department of Education and well-defined partnerships between the Board of Education and local schools boards have produced positive results in divisions previously identified as low-performing. Based on student achievement in 2006-2007, 42 schools (2 percent) are considered chronically low performing in the 2007-2008 school year, compared to 58 schools (3 percent) in the previous year. Chronically low-performing schools are defined as those schools that were accredited with warning for three consecutive years. In the fourth year, schools could move to the following status:

• Fully accredited
• Accreditation withheld (rating shall not be awarded after 2006-2007, based on tests administered in 2005-2006)
• Conditionally accredited
• Accreditation denied
• School closed

Schools that become fully accredited after being warned for three consecutive years are no longer considered chronically low-performing. Schools that are not fully accredited after three years of being accredited with warning are considered chronically low-performing, even if accreditation status is conditional or withheld.

Preparation, Recruitment, and Retention of Educational Personnel

Virginia is proud that 97 percent of all teachers are highly qualified. Moreover, in 2006-2007 the state retained 89 percent of the workforce from the previous year, and 82 percent had been retained for three or more years. Nonetheless, America faces a looming teacher shortage that some have called a "demographic train wreck." Rising student enrollments and record teacher retirements will require the nation to hire 2.2 million new teachers over the next decade. Of course, these teachers must be talented, caring, and well prepared. Schools in some geographic areas already are unable to recruit enough talented teachers, particularly in fields such as math, science and special education.

A critical focus of the Board will be to work with local divisions and postsecondary partners to promote programs such as the Future Educators Association, which is an extracurricular program that not only helps middle and high school students explore careers in education, but it also provides service opportunities and offers schools and communities a chance to shape their own future by shaping the future of the education profession. Through such partnerships, the Board can help fill the need for recruiting talented students into education as a career choice. To do this, schools need to promote and enhance cooperative partnerships in which families are allies in the efforts of teachers and schools and the Board needs to actively support and encourage such activities and programs.

Recruiting Minority Teachers

The gap between the diversity of students in the schools and the ethnic characteristics of the teaching force poses a key question: will teachers reflect the tremendous diversity of the students they will serve? Not without a concerted effort. In Virginia, 13 percent of teachers are black or African-American and 2 percent are Hispanic, compared with approximately 26 and 8 percent of students, respectively.

High-Quality Preschool Programs

The number of school divisions participating in the Virginia Preschool Initiative has grown from 75 in the 2001-2002 school year, to 106 in the 2007-2008 school year. As well, the number of children served has grown from 5,966 in the 2001-2002 school year to 13,116 children being served in 2007-2008. Despite this growth, the number of at-risk four-year olds in Virginia continues to grow. Without providing high quality preschool to all at-risk four-year olds, thousands of at-risk five-year old children will continue enter kindergarten without adequate preparation to be fully ready to learn.

Literacy Skills Are Critical to Success

In 2006-2007, 80 percent of Virginia’s third grade students passed the Standards of Learning assessments, compared to 84 percent in the previous year. As well, 80 percent of eighth grade students passed the statewide reading test in 2006-2007. Given the critical importance of literacy skills for life success, it is critical that the Board continue to emphasize literacy, and that the Commonwealth come together to ensure that 20 percent of students are not headed for failure due to poor literacy skills.

Promoting Parental and Family Involvement

The family and the home are both critical education institutions where children begin learning long before they start school, and where they spend much of their time after they start school. It stands to reason that involving parents in their child’s education is conducive to learning. Such involvement is critical if we are to improve the educational achievement of Virginia’s students and eliminate the achievement gaps. Such involvement is critical if we are to improve the educational achievement of Virginia’s students, promote safe and healthy school environments, and eliminate achievement gaps. To do this, schools need to promote and enhance cooperative partnerships in which families are allies in the efforts of teachers and schools.

Compliance with the Standards of Quality: Fifty-seven school divisions reported full compliance with the SOQ. Non-compliance was most frequently reported for Standard 2 (Instructional, administrative, and support personnel) and Standard 3 (Accreditation, other standards and evaluation). The full list of divisions reporting non-compliance with SOQ provisions is shown in Appendix D of the full report.

Compliance with the Standards of Accreditation: Ninety-one percent of the schools in Virginia meet the full accreditation standards. Those failing to meet all provisions of the SOA are shown in Appendix E of the full report.

Prescribed changes to the SOQ: During the past several years, the Board of Education has prescribed changes to the Standards of Quality, all of which are important policy changes for the improvement of Virginia’s public school system. Many of the recommended changes have been enacted and funded by the General Assembly. Several additional recommendations remain unfunded at this point, and the Board of Education has reaffirmed its position by asking the 2008 General Assembly to again take these provisions under consideration.