They (test scores) rose slightly, yet they still failed. I am somewhat amused. Firebrands like Ken Cuccinelli went nuclear on the new health care plan because Virginians might be forced to buy a product. Yet, at the same time, no one has even raised an eyebrow over the federal government usurping the state’s power over education and mandating a dramatic educational overhaul that is costing localities literally millions of dollars.

From the Washington Post:

Average scores on Virginia’s Standards of Learning math exams rose slightly and reading performance remained static in the 2009-10 school year, but the vast majority of public schools across the state failed to meet new performance benchmarks for graduation rates and for students with disabilities, according to results released Thursday by the state Department of Education.

Fairfax County was the only school division in Northern Virginia and one of only 12 across the state — out of 132 — that met all benchmarks, compared with 60 across the state last year. The portion of schools that met state testing goals dropped from 71 percent to 60 percent.

The dramatic declines were due largely to changes in how success or failure is calculated in the state. “We had some big changes in the rules of the game,” said Charles Pyle, spokesman for the Virginia Department of Education.


Forty-one high schools, including about a dozen in Northern Virginia, and nine school systems missed the mark because of a new requirement that at least 80 percent of students graduate with an advanced or standard diploma within four or five years. The previous target was 61 percent, and graduation rates were calculated differently.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Patricia I. Wright said in a statement that Virginia’s goals for graduation are “aggressive” and that the initial results “send a clear message about the importance of graduating more students.”

A federal policy that allowed schools to bolster the passing rates for students with disabilities was discontinued this year, also leading to a drop in performance. Without the bump, 87 schools and 15 school divisions, including Prince William County, missed targets.

No Child Left Behind, the landmark 2002 federal education law, was created with the goal that all students be proficient in math and reading by 2014. Schools face sanctions if they miss increasing targets for subgroups based on race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status and disabilities.

In Virginia and many other states, performance has risen steadily in recent years, and it has become more difficult to achieve year-over-year gains. The Virginia Board of Education received permission from the U.S. Education Department to keep the target passing rates steady at 81 percent for reading and 79 percent in math, with the stipulation that schools must exceed those goals.

Pressure is mounting for all states to show progress on tougher-to-reach students, by reducing dropout rates and improving gains for students with disabilities, said Jack Jennings, president of the Washington-based Center on Education Policy.

“Virginia has made substantial progress on goals that were considered highly ambitious years ago, but the question now is how to move on to the next stage,” he said.

To read more about NCLB’s impact on Virginia school kids click on the Washington Post

To those who think NCLB doesn’t impact their child, think again. NCLB affects every school in America and a school’s success or failure doesn’t center around how well  the average kids do. It is all about those 4 subgroups. The school operates  around those 4 groups making the grade, whatever the grade is. Think of a moving boundary line that you must somehow jump over, with a blindfold on. that is pretty much what making AYP is all about.  It isn’t just about meeting those benchmarks in math and reading in terms of an overall school grade.  To make AYP, those groups have to show a certain percentage of growth.  Its a blind goal.  No one really knows what they must do to make the grade. 

I would like to see the states all rise up in agreement and just say NO to the rigors of NCLB. If states and localities want to save money, then here is a place to start. Why don’t they do it? Who knows. Why did Congress renew NCLB? Who knows. Perhaps its that catchy title: No Child Left Behind. That sounds innocent enough. Who wants to leave school children behind?

The truth of the matter is all sorts of children are now being left behind. They are left behind because their entire curriculum in all areas of study is geared to the students passing the SOLs in Virginia. NCLB hones in on Reading/writing and math. A graduation component is now in the mix.

Talking to a school administrator about why NCLB is such a bad idea falls on deaf ears. Trust me, they secretly agree with you if you go in and complain. However, they will make up all sorts of excuses and give you platitudes over this horrible enacted legislation. Why? They are scared as hell over their jobs. The fatality rate for principals in high risk schools is morbidly high. Many principals currently in schools with a high percent of minority kids are known as turn-around principals. Those are the ones who come in and dictate programs to the faculty. If you don’t comply, you are transferred out (or beg to get out). Now the graduation component has been added to the AYP component, the stress should probably get worse.  Preventing drop out is difficult at best.  Without an engaging curriculum, which no school in the state has, it is nearly impossible. 

Until the states simply rebel against this kind of federal instrusion, they are going to continue to be held captive, told they have failing schools, and never meet with ‘federal success,’ regardless of what they do. Talk about pouring money down a rat hole. The real test of Cuccinelli’s mettle might be if he decided to sue the feds over NCLB. Does he have the cajones?

14 Thoughts to “Virginia schools fall short of new benchmarks, but scores rise slightly”

  1. Big Dog

    I would imagine that when full detailed reports are released for
    each school, we fill continue to find a close correlation between
    poor test scores and a high number of minority students
    and free and reduced lunch users. Our interest should be in
    identifying those few schools that buck that ominous trend and
    learn from them.

  2. Virginia needs to tell the feds to pound sand over NCLB rather than some of the other things they have drawn a line in the sand over.

    The reason for not making AYP isn’t always intuitive. It very well could be that improvement was made but not by enough percentage points. Seriously.

    Remember you have 4 subgroups: minority, special ed, ESOL, and economically disadvantaged and now the high schools have the graduation component. There are probably other mysteries factored in there too.

  3. DB

    But if you break down the scores for the different groups, the only thing that pops out is that the scores are all over the place in each sub group. I did a customized report for grade three district scores for manassas city:

    Low income: Eng 66, Hist 82, Math 83, Sci 76
    ESOL: Eng 66, Hist 83, Math 83, Sci 77
    Hispanic: Eng 64, Hist 82, Math 81, Sci 75
    Disabilities: Eng 66, Hist 71, Math 68, Sci 67
    Black: Eng 57, Hist 78, Math 85, Sci 73

    So what does this data tell us about the sub groups in third grade? Why do they do well in some subject areas yet not others? If being economically disadvantaged impacts test scores why does it impact scores in some subjects and not others? Same for the rest of the sub groups? I really have no idea. However, IMO those English scores really need some looking into in ALL of the subgroups.

  4. Big Dog

    The graduation component is a special challenge for any high school with
    a large Hispanic immigrant student percentage. For every student that
    enters in the 9th grade and then moves at any point, the HS has to
    receive documentation from another educational institution or official
    notification of an earned GED. If they don’t, the student is considered
    a dropout.
    In 2009 Osbourn City had 77 students identified as dropouts:
    55 Hispanics, 14 Afro-Americans and 8 White.

  5. The English scores jump out at me like a scalding sore thumb.

    Big Dog, I don’t think it is limited to hispanics necessarily. It is for the City, obviously. How about DC schools? That springs to mind. How do your City figures compare to the county? I don’t know.

    And, if college is not an option and you can make a living working, all of a sudden getting a diploma really isn’t all that valuable.

  6. Slowpoke Rodriguez

    I know y’all do, but I fail to see what KC has to do with any of this.

  7. We need him to sue since he likes to do it. Sue to get rid of NCLB.

  8. George S. Harris

    A fair discussion of the recent SOL test results in PWC middle schools, but Oppenhagen doesn’t really get to the point I made in the other thread–letting the test scores of sp/ed kids drag down scores of everyone else. Why cna’t there be an AYP goal for sp/ed kids? While I have no numbers, some portion of them are never gonna get it–they simply don’t have the cognitive ability.
    “Special education and AYP goals

    The education news is trick­ling out of Richmond. While ac­creditation information is not yet available, annual yearly progress information is — and the news is not good for Prince William County.

    AYP is a measure of a school and school division’s progress in education. A component of the “No Child Left Behind” law, AYP measures the success of a school at meeting standards for children in different demographic groups.

    The major demographic groups that are measured are: black, white, Hispanic, economically disadvantaged, limited English proficiency and students with disabilities. Students may appear in more than one group.

    To meet AYP in Virginia, a school must have a 79 percent average in math for each of those groups and an 81 percent in read­ing. If schools have not met those averages, but have improved sig­nificantly, they will be considered to have met AYP.

    This column is going to focus on the middle school results. Of our 15 middle schools (Penning­ton and Porter Traditional are in­cluded in that number), five made AYP: Porter, Pennington Traditional, Gainesville, Lake Ridge and Woodbridge. Congrat­ulations to them. They deserve recognition for their hard work.

    One middle school that did not make AYP, Stonewall, missed AYP in one category in one grade level by two percentage points. Every­one there deserves recognition for his or her hard work, as well.

    Looking at the results from the other schools, one glaring weak­ness stands out: the lack of progress among our students with disabilities. Each of the nine remaining schools was deficient in either math or reading (in some cases both) for these stu­dents. In my mind, that says ad­justments need to be made in ed­ucating these students. But identifying this issue doesn’t make it easy to solve.

    Educating students with dis­abilities is complicated and con­troversial. Getting a child tested to see if he or she needs addi­tional services is frustrating.

    There is a lot of red tape involved just in getting a child to the point of being tested. Once tested, eligi­bility meetings are held among parents, administrators, social workers, psychologists and teachers. In the years that I have been teaching, I have heard more than once that a child does not qualify for special assistance be­cause his or her achievement is on par with his or her potential (as demonstrated by the testing).

    When children do qualify for special education services, they are put in what is called the “least restrictive environment.” This is also known as inclusion, co-lab or mainstreaming. When done well, inclusion is a terrific idea.

    What most people think of when they think inclusion is that there are two teachers in a class­room with fewer students (25, say, instead of 35) so that the chil­dren have more assistance. There is a state law dictating the per­centage of children in a class­room who have disabilities so that an inclusion class doesn’t be­come a large group of solely spe­cial education students.

    But ask most teachers what inclusion is in their school, and you will get a different response.

    (In fact, I would venture a guess that most of the teachers reading this laughed out loud at the pre­vious paragraph). That is be­cause the percentage of children with disabilities in inclusion classes is very frequently above the state law.

    The number of students in an inclusion class equals that of “regular” classes. And that second teacher? Well, when I was a sub­stitute teacher and subbed for a special education teacher, I was in the classroom the entire pe­riod. At many schools this past year, the second teacher was in the classroom for only a part of the class and not for every class period. How effective can some­one be when he or she is as­signed to help five to 10 students in a 20-minute time frame?

    Before I finish for the week, let me add one more thing. Middle school teachers specialize in their subjects. Although some teach two different subjects, most teach just one because they are more effective that way. Special educa­tion teachers are different. They are frequently responsible for two or even three subjects.

    There is lots more that can — and should — be added to this discussion. The one ingredient that hasn’t been discussed yet is the parent. And right now, par­ents have an opportunity to have their say. A school division survey of special education par­ents is currently active. Parents have until Sept. 30 to fill out the survey about their experiences.

    The information collected from this survey will have an impact on policy in the future. I believe this. Every voice counts. At the risk of sounding clichéd, no child should be left behind in the race to the top.

    Denise Oppenhagen is a long­time Prince William County resident and can be reached at”
    My school teacher daughter has never mentioned having a Special Ed teacher in her inclusion classes. Between the pressure to pass the SOLs and problems with many sp/ed kids, she asked to have a year off from teaching an inclusion class. Her department chair and the principal agreed simply because she has had one of the highest pass rate for inclusion classes in Spotsylvania County and the same for her “ordinary” classes. She is an outstanding,no nonsense teacher and I’m very proud of her.

  9. Often the teacher in the inclusion class is an aid and not a teacher. I understand they also aren’t in there the entire time. I simply don’t see how 15 kids who already have processing, organizational, and/or learning problems succeed in a classroom with more than 30 kids. Denise Oppenhagen is correct. The state numbers are high and PWC often exceeds the state recommendation.

    The one school that really should be standing up and taking a bow is Woodbridge Middle School. The school demographics don’t put them at the top of the “most likely to succeed” list. The other schools who made AYP are in much more economically affluent areas where one might assume that the students get a fair degree of outside help from parents.

    Standing ovation for Woodbridge Middle School and a special round of applause for their principal, Skyles Calhoun and the faculty.

  10. Big Dog

    A nice article in today’s N&M about Round Elem., the only MCPS to
    make AYP. They also deserve applause.

    Round has long had a first rate Special Ed program.

  11. I would like to be a maverick and suggest that all the schools need applause. AYP is certainly not the end all be all and it does only measure (although no one is sure how) special needs children.

    Plenty of hard working administrators, staff, teachers and children are probably feeling somewhat let down this week because so few schools made the much coveted ‘AYP.’

    I am tired of people being made to feel that they are somehow children of a lesser God over this stupid AYP business. I am equally tired of the feds moving the bar yearly, often making school personnel and kids feel that nothing is ever good enough.l

    The states have been putting up with this bullying for what, 8 years now? Not a whimper. They allow it. However, let one health care bill come along, let one immigrant come along, and the states are suing like crazy people.

    It’s time for the states to just say no and stop allowing themselves and their jurisdictions to be bullied by bad legislation that gave all the power to a few dumb ass bureaucrats in the Dept of Ed.

    If Cuccinelli is feeling sue crazy, sue the feds over NCLB. I will support him on that.

  12. And it was a nice article on Round Elementary. They should have included the other schools in the City who have also worked their butts off.

  13. marinm

    MH, did you read the WPost.. They ran an editorial from a guy in CATO where he discussed how bad using a national standard is. If your interested I can see if I can find a URL for it..

  14. Yes, I am very interested. Please post the link. Thanks.

    I believe a national standard sounds good on paper but practically is horrible.

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