96 Percent of Va. Public Schools Fully Accredited

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Virginia education officials said 96 percent of Virginia's public schools are fully accredited after meeting state benchmarks, down from last year because the state imposed tougher standards that require high schools to account for graduation and completion.

The Virginia Department of Education said Thursday that all but 70 of the state's 1,768 schools met objectives on 2010-11 Standards of Learning tests and other statewide assessments in English, mathematics, science and history -- and, for high schools, graduation. That's down from 98 percent last year.

Among high schools, 86 percent meet full accreditation standards, down from 99 percent. This is the first time the state included high school graduation and completion among its accountability measures.

“Whenever standards are raised, there are schools that require time to meet the new expectations,” state Superintendent of Public Instruction Patricia Wright said Thursday.

State education officials say 298 of 309 middle schools and 1,157 out of 1,174 elementary schools are fully accredited.

To gain full accreditation, 70 percent of students in each middle and high school must pass all four Standards of Learning subject areas.

High schools also must also attain a point value of at least 85 on a newly implemented “graduation and completion” index. The annual index assigns certain point values to different types of diplomas, GEDs or other credentials, and factors in on-time graduation, dropouts and students transferring in and out of the school.

In elementary school, 75 percent must pass English tests and 70 percent must pass math tests in the third through fifth grades to gain full accreditation. Also, 70 percent must pass fifth-grade science and Virginia history (which can be offered in fourth or fifth grade), and 50 percent must pass third-grade science and third-grade history.

Adjustments are allowed for English learners, students who undergo remediation after failing reading or math tests, and students who recently have transferred into a state public school.

J.E.B. Stuart Elementary School in Petersburg earned full accreditation after falling short for three straight years, officials said.

The state denied accreditation to two schools because of chronically low student achievement: Petersburg's Peabody Middle School, for a sixth straight year; and Ellen W. Chambliss Elementary School, for a third straight year.

Thirty schools are accredited with warning, up from 15 last year. Such schools have to undergo academic review and are required to come up with school-improvement plans. Thirty high schools are provisionally accredited -- meaning they achieved the required pass rates in the four content areas and had a completion and graduation index in the 80 point to 84 point range.

Five schools have conditional accreditation because they're new schools, officials said, and the status of three schools undergoing efforts to improve student performance after being denied accreditation will be determined by the state Board of Education.

Required pass rates will be raised in 2012, when 75 percent of students in testing levels must pass English for schools to be accredited. Pass rates in science and history will be raised to 70 percent for elementary students. The Standards of Learning math tests will become more rigorous this school year, and the English tests will follow suit next year.

Wright expects accreditation rates will continue to fall as the state adopts higher standards.

“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,” she said in a statement.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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