- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 3, 2003

CHESTERFIELD, Va. (AP) — Help is on the way for thousands of Virginia high school students at risk of failing to graduate with their senior classes next year because they were unable to pass the Standards of Learning (SOL) exams.

Gov. Mark Warner yesterday presented Project Graduation, a series of pilot programs that include summer tutorials, online teaching and special case managers for students who need help with the exams.

The state will begin three-week summer academies in 11 Southside Virginia school districts to help students pass the English SOL test. About 100 at-risk rising seniors in that area can attend the special academies at Prince Edward County High School, Nottoway County High School and the Brunswick County Technical Center.

In addition, about 200 students statewide can take advantage of online tutorials in English, math, social studies and science. About 100 rising seniors will be eligible for online distance courses for 10th- and 11th-grade English. These students need to earn English course credits to prepare for retakes of the English SOL tests.

“We’re making sure in Virginia that we are fully prepared for all the consequences of the SOLs,” Mr. Warner said at Meadowbrook High School in an affluent Chesterfield County suburb of Richmond.

The expected $400,000 cost of the pilot project will come from federal money made available by President Bush’s No Child Left Behind education reforms.

Mr. Warner’s initiative comes one year before the Class of 2004 becomes the first in Virginia required to pass the SOLs to graduate. The administration hopes to avoid wholesale failures of high schoolers to graduate because of problems taking these standardized tests

In Florida, news reports are dominated by thousands of students who cannot graduate on time with their classmates because they have failed that state’s accountability tests.

Arlington County will receive a grant for its “case manager” approach to shepherding at-risk students through the SOLs to graduation. These case managers — teachers, counselors and other school employees — receive a small stipend for each pupil he or she assists.

Virginia officials likely won’t know how many seniors in the class of 2004 need SOL remediation until the end of the summer, said Jo Lynne DeMary the state superintendent of public instruction.

Students have been taking the tests in Virginia public schools for nearly a decade, and the results have been used only to identify schools that are not producing sufficient numbers of passing scores, targeting additional state resources to those school divisions.

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