- The Washington Times - Monday, November 10, 2003

RICHMOND — Seventy-eight percent of Virginia’s public schools earned full accreditation last year, as an additional 233 schools met or exceeded state standards, the state Department of Education said yesterday.

Schools earn full accreditation when at least 70 percent of students pass mandatory Standards of Learning (SOL) tests, or state-approved substitute exams, in each of the four core subject areas: English, mathematics, science and history-social studies. Last year, 65 percent of the schools were fully accredited.

The accreditation rate has improved steadily since 1998, when after the first year of SOL testing, only 2 percent of schools achieved full accreditation.

“When that 2 percent came out, I was thinking, ‘My, my, my — we have a lot of work to do.’ I certainly think we’ve done it,” state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jo Lynne DeMary said in an interview. “But I’m not going to be satisfied, and no educator in the state will be satisfied, until we are sure we’ve done everything we can to get every school accredited.”

According to the department, 1,414 of Virginia’s 1,823 schools are fully accredited, up from 1,181 a year ago.

Only two Northern Virginia schools failed to meet state standards in the past year and now find themselves on the “accredited with warning” list.

Bryant Alternative High School, in the Alexandria section of Fairfax County, didn’t “make the grade” in science. Woodson Adult High School in Fairfax fell short in math and science.

Statewide, 64 schools, or 4 percent of the state’s total, were rated “provisionally accredited — meets state standards,” meaning they met annual progress benchmarks.

In Northern Virginia, only Loudoun County and the cities of Manassas Park and Manassas saw all of their schools fully accredited. Fairfax, Arlington, Prince William and Alexandria each had schools that need improvement and were provisionally accredited.

An additional 294 schools, or 16 percent, came within 20 percentage points of meeting the benchmarks. Those schools were given provisional accreditation but were cited as needing improvement.

Fifty-one schools, or 3 percent, were “accredited with warning,” because they were more than 20 points shy of the benchmarks in at least one of the four subjects.

Last year, 85 schools were accredited with warning.

The 2002-2003 academic year was the last year schools could earn provisional accreditation. From now on, schools will either be fully accredited or accredited with warning.

“I would certainly hope that all our schools that are provisionally accredited can move up to fully accredited,” Miss DeMary said. “That’s very ambitious, but I don’t want to say we can’t do it. We’ve come so far.”

Schools that fail to meet the standards by 2007 will lose accreditation.

“We will not give up on any child or any school, and we will not back down from the accountability standards built into our SOL program,” Gov. Mark Warner said in a prepared statement.

Overall, student achievement improved on 19 of the 26 SOL tests administered last spring. Scores remained about the same or fell slightly on seven tests.

The pass rate on the eighth-grade reading test declined to 67 percent, down from 69 percent in 2002 and 73 percent in 2001. The pass rate on the eighth-grade writing test also fell to 74 percent, down from 76 percent the previous year.

State education officials already have begun working with middle-school teachers and specialists to address the problem, Miss DeMary said.

“We’re going to delve into this more,” she said. “We’ve got to look at the data more closely and analyze the test results, to see where we need to make corrections.”

The department also said that more than 90 percent of the high school students who took end-of-course SOL tests in reading and writing passed, earning the credits that, beginning this year, will be required for graduation. Seniors who have not yet passed the reading and writing SOLs will have several more opportunities before the end of the year.

The achievement gap between black students and their classmates continued to shrink.

The pass rate for black students on the graduation-related reading test improved 12 points to 88 percent, while the overall pass rate climbed seven points to 93 percent.

In writing, the pass rate for blacks increased by eight points to 83 percent, while the overall pass rate rose five points to 91 percent.

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