- The Washington Times - Friday, September 28, 2007

RICHMOND (AP) — The Virginia Department of Education denied accreditation yesterday to five Petersburg public schools because of persistent achievement deficiencies in several subject areas on state-standardized tests.

Four of the schools have been denied for a second straight year, according to the agency. They are A.P. Hill and J.E.B. Stuart elementary schools, Peabody Middle School and Petersburg High School. The fifth school, Vernon Johns Middle School, lost accreditation for the first time.

A school is denied accreditation if its students fail to pass Standards of Learning exams in English, mathematics, science and history-social science for more than three straight years, according to the agency.

Such schools must submit a corrective-action plan to the state Board of Education describing the steps it will take to improve test scores. They also must give parents written notice of the accreditation and a copy of the school division’s proposed corrective plan, and give the public a chance to comment on the proposed plan before it is adopted.

The board granted “conditional accreditation” to 28 schools that are in the process of undergoing reconstitution plans after failing accreditation benchmarks for four straight years.

A school division can choose to operate under an “accreditation denied” status and apply to the board to be conditionally accredited. If the board allows the rating, the school would have up to three years to increase student test scores to passing levels.

The conditionally accredited schools are making changes in staffing, curriculum and administration, board President Mark E. Emblidge said.

“In almost all of these schools, student achievement is on the rise,” he said.

Two Sussex County elementary schools — Annie B. Jackson and Ellen W. Chambliss — are requesting conditional accreditation for the second straight year. The board will decide on the requests next month.

Ninety-six percent of Virginia’s elementary schools and 97 percent of its high schools received full accreditation, according to the Department of Education. However, the high-school results do not take into account students who drop out before taking the exams.

Sixty-nine percent of Virginia’s 314 middle schools received full accreditation, down from 71 percent last year, in part because of lower performance on tougher middle-school math Standards of Learning exams introduced two years ago. Twenty-four middle schools were accredited with warning, down from 86 schools the previous year.

“Virginia’s expectations for achievement in mathematics are challenging — especially in the middle grades as students prepare for algebra and geometry,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Billy K. Cannaday said.

Officials said 102 schools were accredited with warning, down from 138 in 2005-06. Forty-five schools slipped from full accreditation to being accredited with warning, and 46 schools that were on warning last year received full accreditation.

State-accreditation ratings are based on student performance on the exams and approved substitute tests administered in the summer and fall of 2006 and the spring of 2007, or on overall achievement during the three most recent academic years, where results of tests are combined to produce overall passing percentages.

In middle and high schools, 70 percent of students must pass all four of the subject areas to be fully accredited. In elementary school, 75 percent must pass English tests in the third through fifth grades. Also for elementary schools, 70 percent must pass math and fifth-grade science and history, and 50 percent must pass third-grade science and third-grade history.

Adjustments also can be made for English learners and for students who recently have transferred into a state public school.

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