Change was in the air as the Clarke County School Board met for the first time in the auditorium of the new high school on Monday evening. School officials spent almost a full hour explaining and discussing the ramifications of the June 29th decision by the federal government to approve a waiver for Virginia schools that frees them from having to meet No Child Left Behind (NCLB) benchmarks in reading and mathematics or the federal law’s mandate that all students — regardless of circumstance — achieve grade-level proficiency by 2014.
While the waiver is generally viewed as a step in the right direction, Superintendent, Mike Murphy explained the undefined nature of the waiver makes its impact on the Clarke County School Division less than clear, ” Dr. Floyd and I have reviewed this several times and we can honestly say we have more questions about what the government has launched us into than we had before. I think in some ways it is a lot muddier.”
Murphy said the path prior to the waiver was relatively clear with goals and objectives, but now the VDOE plans to use the waiver to do something different and what that is remains a mystery. Dr. Lisa Floyd opened her prepared presentation on the impact of the decision by citing the VDOE State Superintendents who said in May, “Will it be confusing to the public? Absolutely. Will it be confusing to schools? Absolutely. Is it worth doing? Absolutely.”
At the heart of the waiver are Title I schools. Under the law in the Commonwealth of Virginia, Title 1 schools are those that receive federal funds under Title 1 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. These funds are given to help students in areas of low-income and high-poverty rates in order to help students who are behind academically or who are at risk of falling behind. There are currently 723 schools in Virginia identified as Title I in the 2011-2012 school year, but none of the schools in Clarke County currently fall into this category. So, while there will be significant changes for those 723 schools, it seems the impact on Clarke County schools will be limited.
One metric that has been scrutinized locally in the past has been eliminated. Virginia schools and school divisions will no longer receive annual “Adequate Yearly Progress” or AYP ratings. Instead, the performance metric will be based on Annual Measurable Objectives (AMOs) but the minimum expectations for AMOs has not been released by the state. Virginia’s 2012-2013 AMOs, which had been scheduled to advance to 91 percent passing in reading and 90 percent passing in mathematics, will be adjusted once the data from the 2011-2012 assessments have been verified by school divisions.
The waiver also creates a greater focus on Proficiency Gap Groups which include:
Gap Group 1 – Students with disabilities, English language learners, and economically disadvantaged students (unduplicated count)
Gap Group 2 – Black students, not of Hispanic origin, including students with disabilities, English language learners, and economically disadvantaged students
Gap Group 3 – Hispanic students, of one or more races, including students with disabilities, English language learners, and economically disadvantaged students
In order to meet federal accountability requirements, schools and divisions will be required to reduce failure rates in reading and mathematics by half during the next six years in each proficiency gap group and each individual subgroup. Additionally, high schools will need to meet federal graduation expectations.
Given the size and demographics of Clarke County’s school system even the impact of these accountability groups may be limited. Virginia’s “minimum n” has been reduced from 50 to 30. While the expectation is that all students will participate in statewide assessments, if fewer than the “minimum n” count of 30 students are in a group or subgroup, the individual performance of the group with a small n-size will not be included in federal accountability determinations. The assessment results of these students will be counted in the “all students” group.
While School Board members thanked Floyd for her thorough presentation, Berryville District Board Member Jim Brinkmeier tried to drive the conversation back to the request that the he made of school officials at the last meeting to produce a historical record of SOL performance for the last 3 years, in particular the preliminary SOL data that is available to the administration for this year’s SOL performance. “I have looked at our SOLs from the VDOE website over the last three years and just to give you the Readers Digest version here quickly, of the 11 subjects tested at Clarke County High School over the last three years, 6 areas were down. Some a little some more significantly.” He added, “The data that the schools currently have is preliminary and I know we have no benchmarks to measure it by, but we can look at similar school divisions in the Commonwealth and see how we compare to them.”
Superintendent Murphy and Lisa Floyd suggested that the examination of this year’s results should wait until the VDOE has had their final assessment of the results later in August. School Board Chair Janet Alger agreed and the group put the review of the 2011-2012 SOL scores in the agenda for the August 27th meeting.