- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 29, 2011

Ninety-six percent of Virginia schools are fully accredited by the state Department of Education for 2011-2012 — down 2 percentage points from last year — and the state superintendent is warning of further declines in coming years as Virginia implements more stringent standards for English and math testing.

Ninety-eight percent of the state’s elementary schools and 97 percent of middle schools are fully accredited for the 2011-2012 school year, based on student performance on Standards of Learning (SOL) tests and other statewide tests.

In 97 of the state’s 132 school divisions, all schools are fully accredited, down from 119 last year.

Elementary schools and middle schools are fully accredited if students achieve certain pass rates in four content areas: English, mathematics, science and history.

In elementary schools, a combined pass rate of at least 75 percent on English tests in grades 3 through 5 is required for full accreditation, as well as pass rates of at least 70 percent in mathematics, fifth-grade science and fifth-grade history, and pass rates of at least 50 percent in third-grade science and third-grade history.

In middle schools, a pass rate of at least 70 percent in all four subject areas is required for full accreditation.

High schools also require the four-subject 70 percent pass rate, but in addition to testing performance the state also introduced a new accountability factor for high schools that includes an index based on graduation and completion rates.

The percentage of fully accredited high schools dropped from 99 percent to 86 percent from last year.

“Whenever standards are raised, there are schools that require time to meet the new expectations,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Patricia I. Wright said in a statement. “The fact that 86 percent of high schools already meet or exceed the standard for graduation and completion speaks to the efforts of educators and administrators to raise graduation rates.”

Schools also will implement more rigorous standards in math this year and English in 2012-2013.

“Our schools will begin a new trend line as these more rigorous standards and assessments become effective,” Ms. Wright said. “But raising standards is the right thing to do, and I am confident that our teachers and schools will rise to the challenge and Virginia students will be better prepared as a result.”

In July, Ms. Wright awarded waivers from the annual accreditation to 54 schools, which qualified for the flexibility by achieving pass rates of 95 percent or higher in all content areas of the state’s SOL tests for two straight years.

The Board of Education in 2006 authorized waivers from annual accreditation for high-performing schools. Schools receiving waivers still administer SOL tests and report the results to parents and the public.

Earning the waivers offers school principals flexibility to focus on subjects that are not on the SOL tests.

“There’s a certain flexibility for all, but certainly with these schools they can be as creative with these things as they can be,” said Mike Martin, director of elementary education in Loudoun County. “If they’re going to take advantage of it, they’re going to do it right now.”

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