- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 26, 2000

The number of schools that met standards for full accreditation tripled this year, but more than 77 percent of Virginia's schools still fell short of the mark, according to figures released yesterday by the Virginia Department of Education.

Of the 406 schools that received accreditation, 180 were in Northern Virginia. Last year, 118 of the state's schools were fully accredited.

This year, 111 of Fairfax County's 195 schools, 13 of Arlington's 30 schools and 34 of Loudoun County's 48 schools met the full accreditation standards.

In Alexandria, two of 17 schools received accreditation; in Prince William County, eight of 63. Neither had a single accredited school last year.

"I am very pleased," said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jo Lynne DeMary about the statewide results. "More and more of our educators and students are meeting the challenge of higher standards."

To achieve full accreditation, schools need a minimum passing rate of 70 percent on all mandatory Standards of Learning tests, administered to students in third, fifth and eighth grades and again in high school. Schools in Virginia that do not achieve this passing rate by 2007 risk losing accreditation.

Three of the five school systems in Northern Virginia performed better this year than the state average of 22.2 percent, with Alexandria and Prince William County being the exceptions.

Statewide this year, 1,184 schools or 64.9 percent earned provisional accreditation by either meeting annual progress benchmarks or falling slightly below the benchmark in one or more academic areas. As many as 234 schools received warnings for having pass rates 20 or more percentage points below the provisional benchmarks.

Among the best performers was Falls Church, where all four schools received full accreditation; among the worst was Petersburg, where all 10 schools received warnings.

Fairfax school officials said they were "delighted" with their results.

"We have done a lot of hard work in terms of teacher training, Project Excel schools, full-day kindergarten and reduced class sizes, and we are happy to see the results," Fairfax Superintendent Daniel A. Domenech said. In Fairfax, the number of schools receiving accreditation rose from 43 last year.

Some school systems, including Alexandria, were caught unaware by the news, and officials did not have an immediate reaction.

In Alexandria, Principal Netta Lawson of Charles Barrett Elementary was surprised when told that her school had been fully accredited.

"This is news to me," she said. "I am very happy. We have put a lot of hard work into this."

State education officials said schools appeared to be "on the right track" toward making the 2007 deadline.

"The most important number is not just the schools that received accreditation, but the schools that acquired benchmarks for progress," said Mark Christie, member of the Virginia Board of Education. "We are doing pretty well in meeting the target."

In July, the state Board of Education revised the accreditation standards in response to suggestions from teachers, administrators and parents. Under the new standards, provisional benchmarks for SOL pass rates in English, math, science and history/social science will increase by steps through the 2002-2003 academic year. Schools that meet the benchmark pass rates are counted as meeting state accreditation standards, even if they have not received full accreditation.

The schools that received warnings were "a relatively small number" this year, Mr. Christie said, adding, "We know now that these are schools that will need additional help and focus."

He said the Department of Education was encouraging these schools to look at instructional models to help achieve their goals, and added that scores below one-third of the required pass rates were "simply unacceptable."

Of the 11 Fairfax schools that received a warning, two Riverside Elementary and Mount Vernon Woods are in the general education category. "Extensive measures" were being taken to improve scores in these schools, Mr. Domenech said.

Riverside was named a professional development academic center earlier this year, and four nationally certified teachers were brought in to teach students. At Mount Vernon Woods, there was a specific focus on direct instruction and reduced classroom size, Mr. Domenech said.

Fairfax County School Board Chairman Robert Frye said the state was still going through "growing pains" with regard to the standards of accreditation.

"State standards are an excellent idea, but how they are implemented in Virginia are a problem. There are a lot of common-sense things to do to make the program function properly," he said, adding that the state had been responding to some of these requests for change.

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