Local: Education

Virginia House approves report card for schools

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Local,Virginia,Education,Rachel Baye

A measure requiring Virginia schools to be evaluated on an A through F grading scale passed the state House of Delegates on Monday.

The state Senate is expected to vote on a similar measure Tuesday.

Introduced as part of Gov. Bob McDonnell's education package, the bill, approved 54-40, requires the state Board of Education to give each school in the state an A, B, C, D or F based on the school's performance on state standardized tests and its level of accreditation.

Other education legislation
» The state House approved for a final reading a bill banning calculators on seventh- and eighth-grade standardized tests. The bill was amended to require the state add a statistically significant number of noncalculator math questions to tests given to younger students. The bill is expected to be voted on Tuesday.
» The state House approved for a final reading a bill allowing the state to take control of failing schools. The bill is expected to be put to a vote Tuesday.
» The state House passed a bill allowing local school boards to establish the school calendar and start school before Labor Day. The same bill failed in a Senate committee.
» The state House passed a bill requiring local school boards to define "bullying" in their student conduct policies and to prohibit bullying. The same bill failed in a Senate committee.

For example, a school might receive an A if it is fully accredited, it meets all federal benchmarks and at least 25 percent of students scored an advanced proficiency pass rate on the Standards of Learning test in each subject. A school might receive an F if it was denied accreditation or was conditionally accredited.

Though the current evaluation system allows the public to see a school's performance in each subject area and its level of accreditation, the measure is intended to simplify the data.

"Parents and families will have another tool to advocate for and achieve better schools for their communities," McDonnell said, urging the Senate to also pass the measure. "It's time for Virginia to adapt this common-sense A-F school grading system that has been successfully implemented in other states and will help us continue to make real improvements in the quality of our children's education."

But critics of the measure say it will oversimplify the data and be misused by community members.

"What worries me about this is there's this notion out there that there are failing schools, and I just don't believe that there are failing schools. There are failing policy makers," said Fairfax County School Board Member Ted Velkoff.

Using the schools' Standards of Learning as the basis for a letter grade could force teachers to teach to the test, sacrificing more creative teaching methods, warned Michael Hairston, president of the Fairfax Education Association.

"Teachers work hard. They want to teach," he said. "If they're having to teach to the test, that just makes it extremely difficult to instill that joy for learning in students."

Schools should be relying on factors other than test scores to evaluate the quality of a school, said Louise Epstein, an education advocate in Fairfax County who co-founded the Fairfax Education Coalition, a group of parents, teachers and community members.

"To what extent are students struggling in class? ... Is the school overcrowded, or are all the kids in trailers? Are the teachers happy?" She asked. "SOL tests are minimum competency tests. ... They should be one of many factors."

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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Rachel Baye

Staff Writer - Education
The Washington Examiner