- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 26, 2006

RICHMOND — Gov. Timothy M. Kaine yesterday reiterated his main initiatives for Virginia’s public schools, including a desire for schools to set goals for their students that aim higher than just passing the Standards of Learning tests.

Speaking to the state Board of Education, Mr. Kaine said that the standardized tests represent minimum competency and don’t hold schools accountable for meeting the needs of students who can achieve at a higher level.

“As a state, we’ve got to recognize that the competitive world that we live in values innovation, creativity and higher-order critical thinking, more than just basic competence,” he said.

Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, highlighted his Commonwealth Scholars program, saying the state should meet the educational needs of students who exceed the SOL standards but aren’t enrolled in programs for gifted students. The pilot program in 11 school districts encourages students to take courses beyond those required for a standard diploma but not as rigorous as required for an advanced diploma.

He also said the accreditation system should reward schools exceeding minimum standards.

Acknowledging that some schools across Virginia are still struggling to measure up, Mr. Kaine said he would continue support of a program started by his predecessor, Mark Warner, that works to help underperforming, mostly urban, schools pass the SOLs.

Mr. Kaine also said that other priorities include increasing high school graduation rates, particularly among nonwhite students.

According to state education figures, fewer than 74 percent of ninth-graders in 2001 graduated from high school in 2005. A Virginia Commonwealth University study of the class of 2004 showed that a disproportionate number of black and Hispanic students failed to complete high school in four years, and the vast majority were held back or dropped out of school before their senior year.

Mr. Kaine also stressed his continued support for expanded preschool for 4-year-olds, which was prominent on his education wish list during his campaign. He appointed a 17-member council, which is exploring ways to develop such programs. He also cited the Virginia Preschool Initiative, which distributes state funds to schools and community-based groups to provide preschool programs for 4-year-olds who face academic deficiencies.

“At present, too many of our children are unprepared for learning when they enter kindergarten and they quickly fall behind,” he said. “Increasing access to good-quality, affordable preschool will help students achieve in school and in life,” he said.

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